For months after the attacks of 9/11, when people would be asked, “What did you learn?” they invariably responded, “Spend more time with family.” That answer has reverberated in my mind throughout these two months of idyllic scenes of parents and children jumping on trampolines, riding bicycles and walking dogs. Yes, this quality time has been forced on us, but I can’t shake the feeling that we’re being given an early gift for some unknown, upcoming occasion. And I wonder if, rather than being the main event, the strangely limited plague was meant to lay the groundwork for something else. Is COVID-19 the chaos promised by this Year of the Rat, or is it the quiet before the storm?
One can’t go without noticing that 75 years after we reclaimed the world from tyranny — celebrated in Russia tomorrow and at one time celebrated here on this day — May again finds us fighting to wrest our world back, not only from a virus but from similarly opportunistic elements in our society that seize on any opening to give tyranny a foothold.
We’ve seen a father handcuffed in front of his 6-year-old daughter for playing too closely in the park; a man dragged off a bus for not wearing a mask; surfing and golfing outlawed. We’ve seen a mayor encourage neighbors to inform on neighbors, and a governor compel nursing homes to open their doors to death. We’ve heard cops saying, “I was just following orders,” but also police departments telling governors they’ve overstepped their authority. We’ve seen Americans give up their freedoms easily and scold those who resisted, but also Americans in the streets fighting to get their rights back.
Even if it started out differently, the COVID-19 quarantine has proved quite the experiment in population control, demonstrating to officials how manageable we’d be in a martial law scenario and getting us used to crisis mode. But what sort of war would require martial law here?
Well, a world war would. And the groundwork for just such a thing had been planned for these three months, courtesy of our Cold-War-Forever military and intelligence fixtures.
Specifically, this newspaper reported in early February under the headline “U.S., NATO Allies Prepare for Massive Military Exercises as Russia Watches,” Defender-Europe 20 was to be “the largest military deployment to Europe in 25 years … scheduled to run from April to July.” A month after a nuclear launch against Russia was simulated in February at Omaha’s U.S. Strategic Command, 450 tanks and 37,000 troops were in the process of being deployed to the Russian border.
As “Captain Quinn” of the History Channel’s “Project Bluebook” (based on an Air Force program back when it was UFOs we accused Russia of being behind) warned about 1952’s Operation Mainbrace exercise: “The admiral is bringing his fleet right to the edge of Soviet waters. Two hundred warships, 80,000 men — it’ll look like we’re invading.”
As if his currently applicable point weren’t enough, today as Russia commemorates history, we’re busy reversing it. It took the World Socialist website to point out in February that NATO’s “transportation of troops, tanks, and vehicles to Estonia … Bulgaria and Georgia is taking place through German airports and ports, and along German railways and roads.” The website underscored the irony: “Seventy-five years since the end of the Second World War, Germany stands at the center of a huge NATO military build-up against Russia.”
But along came the coronavirus. And so instead of these big, history-defiling plans going forward, Germany’s co-star Poland “announced that its chief of the general staff had come down with the virus after returning from a NATO meeting in Germany,” RT reported, and “the Norwegian military quarantined 1,300 personnel on a base … after a soldier tested positive,” putting a damper on Norway’s coordinated “Cold Response 2020.” Meanwhile, a NATO press release announced that American “forces already deployed to Europe for other linked exercises will return to the United States.”
You’d think the generals might take the hint. But NATO will view the pandemic as just a temporary setback and, like an ant colony, will regroup without skipping a beat — to our financial and ultimately existential peril. The warmakers count on us shrugging at their myriad activities threatening our existence, but thanking the troops when we see them.
Just the perversity of our taxes going to the misuse of our military should be considered scandalous. Ironically, it was as part of his desire to scale down NATO — and by extension chances of war with Russia — that Donald Trump challenged NATO members to cough up their share of the cost — thinking they wouldn’t rise to the occasion. But several have, and so NATO is quite happy with President Trump, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Bradley Bowman remarking, “His administration has dramatically improved U.S. military readiness … there’s much to applaud.” Always loving a win, our president is likely to forget to not view this as one; during Sunday’s Virtual Town Hall on Fox News he touted his good relationship with the alliance’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
And still Mr. Trump remains our best hope for averting war, as Joe “Vladimir-Putin-doesn’t-want-me-to-be-President” Biden is all too eager for it. (In addition to which, as with Bill Clinton’s own war in Eastern Europe, Mr. Biden too has a tail that’s wagging the dog.) President Trump, more than anyone else, must not lose sight of the fact that the hunting of Donald Trump is the domestic iteration of the hunting of Russia. It was the November-January chapter of the former that afforded the coronavirus the distraction it needed to proliferate here. Now COVID-19 has become the latest tool in the Trump hunt, with CNN devoting a 90-minute retrospective to everything Mr. Trump did “wrong,” titled “The Pandemic and the President” — so that you’ll remember, come November.
Every election year brings calls for change. In the case of 2020, change came before the election — and we didn’t like it very much, even if some of us want to keep it a while longer in the hopes of achieving a true change to socialism that these eight weeks have given us a taste of. But as the saner among us pine for things to get back to normal, we should admit that even what we’re experiencing now is a lot closer to the world we’re used to than what can yet be. After all, we still have Wendy’s drive-thrus, groceries, fuel, deliveries, communication and Starbucks; our world remains fundamentally recognizable. Not being able to see the sky, on the other hand — let alone McDonald’s golden arches — would be quite the change, one that would be expedited by anyone other than Donald Trump winning the election.
If nuclear war sounds farfetched, who could have conceived — just a short time ago — that the world would close? “Unprecedented times” do happen.
Fate did its part: a plague — reportedly foretold — arrived, to either put the kibosh on war games and give us a distaste for crisis, or to embolden our leaders to condition us for the biggest war yet. This is where free will kicks in. Whether the end result will be that our leaders have set us up for war, or whether it’ll be that providence set us up for peace, is up to us.
⦁ Julia Gorin was a Soviet Refusenik who came to the U.S. in 1976. She is editor of “Hillarisms: The Unmaking of the First Female President.”