TGU — and me — on the virus and warfare analogy

Saturday, April 3, 2021

4:50 a.m. As so often, I sit down to work feeling that I should know where we go next, yet don’t quite know. Here, for instance, I get that there’s a logical continuance to your argument about the virus and our civilization, but without re-reading the past few entries, I don’t know what it would be – and I get the sense that my reading them is not the thing to do. Sometimes it seems okay to, other times not. So I hope you have today’s lecture prepared, professors.

As it happens, we do, only it is not a prepared script, but an intention to wander through a certain territory. The exact path we travel depends upon where the interaction takes us, as usual.

As opposed to Seth’s way of working, say.

Everybody’s style is different, in non-3D as in 3D. What else would you expect?

I still sometimes slip into thinking of the non-3D as more homogenous, more undifferentiated.

Yes, just as we know everything, etc.

In any case —

The trend of our talk is that World War III, like its military predecessors, is out to transform society, and an analogy that comes to us is one you may not care for, at first blush, but may grow on you.

Yes, I feel it – and for what it’s worth, that’s exactly what happened within me, in a matter of seconds: First revulsion, then acceptance, then a sort of appreciation of the aptness of the analogy.

Remember that it is analogy, not literal description, but still it has its uses. So set it out for us and we will correct if need be.

Well, a virus attacks a body’s weaknesses, not its strengths. Just as a plague takes out the weakest, or a plant infection takes out the compromised plants, so this is a way of culling a society not in the way a war does – by taking the most vigorous – but

No, let me say that more carefully, because as I was writing it, it clarified on me.

Good. Continue.

In the first war, — well, how far back do you want me to go? Even starting at World War I is starting at the middle, in a sense, or rather, there isn’t any beginning to the process. You can always go back farther to show prior changes.

Begin with the conventions of 1914 and take them as given. As you say, you have to start somewhere. And remember, this isn’t a history lesson, it is an analogy. Oversimplify.

[Putting my stuff in Roman rather than italic, because most of what follows is from me, and Roman is easier to read than italic.]

Okay. In prewar 1914, war was understood to involve primarily combatants, not civilians. War always involved collateral damage, to property particularly, but civilians, though they might be liable to robbery, rape, imprisonment, etc., were not regarded as legitimate targets of warfare. For that matter, warfare at least in Western Europe was not expected to involve massive destruction of civilian property. Such things as churches, universities, etc. were just not legitimate targets of military activity. People had been working for decades to hedge warfare around with rules to civilize it, you might say. That’s one reason that the German invasion of Belgium was so incendiary. It wasn’t just that they invaded, it was how they invaded, because the German army, infuriated that the Belgians resisted rather allow them free passage, took to them with fire and sword. Photos of churches and libraries reduced to single standing walls shocked the world, and of course the Allied governments knew how to channel that shock into anti-German sentiment.

One thing led to another. Whereas in July 1914 [that is, before the war], everyone agreed to certain rules of warfare, by the time “peace” returned after November, 1918, all the rules had been destroyed or ignored. Entire civilian populations (beginning with the Belgians) were being starved. Artillery barrages were attacking cities. Taxicabs had been mobilized in one case, to move the French army to meet an emergency. [An example of the blurring of the lines between military and civilian.] Poison gas, unrestricted submarine warfare (which involved the sinking of civilian ships without prior warning and without allowing crews and passengers to save themselves in lifeboats) were blurring the lines between military and civilian. Within months of the declaration of war, the British were attempting to starve out the Germans by interdicting all seaborne commerce. Zeppelins bombed English cities without any pretense of seeking military targets; they were out to spread civilian terror if possible, thinking that then English, having been immune to invasion since 1066, might panic if they got a taste of warfare at home.

I’m sorry to go on at such length, but it’s hard to say even the barest bones of the change in a few words. The point is, the reason the people of the 1920s – the survivors of this massive social earthquake – were so demoralized, hysterical, rootless, was because they knew at an unconscious level and to a lesser extent at a semi-conscious level and to a still lesser extent at a conscious level, how mortal a blow the prewar world had suffered. Parenthetically, this is why Hemingway’s first books made such an immense impact, and, to a lesser degree, those of others like Remarque and dos Passos. The artists – the sensitive fingertips of human society – sensed and expressed something that neither they nor their public yet understood, but did feel.

The second war continued the process and made it even more brutal, moving from the destruction of Poland in two weeks to the deliberate and needless destruction of undefended Rotterdam by air raids, to the street-by-street destruction of Stalingrad and the 900-day starvation of Leningrad, to the air raids that destroyed Dresden and so many other cities, and on to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And I assure you, this is only the most superficial of glances at the continued downward spiral of brutality, that led all involved to do things by the end of the war that they would never have dreamed themselves capable of doing at the beginning.

But the point of our analogy —

Yes, I sort of buried it, didn’t I? The point is that at the beginning, war took the most physically fit, the soldiers and sailors and airmen, boys and young men in the prime of life. But as the war stretched on, not only did the combatants take older and older, and younger and younger – the war spilled over and took women, and children – even babies, who starved to death because of food blockades, or who were malnourished and stunted. It took old men, it took everybody, and it spared nothing by category. By 1945, it was clear that war itself had become the enemy of human existence. Some leaders – Eisenhower, Macmillan, Kennedy, even Khrushchev, finally – saw it more clearly, more quickly than others, but gradually it became clear to even the stupidest. (In 1963 the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that ended testing in the atmosphere, which had become routine, was very controversial. Who would advocate such testing today?)

Refocus, a bit. This is useful but still leaves the essence unsaid.

War can no longer be counted on to concentrate on the fittest; now it may be said to concentrate on the most defenseless. (That’s a half-truth at best, but I’m trying to get this out.) The virus may perhaps be carrying on where the warfare left off, attacking the most vulnerable.

No, that isn’t quite it. Let us take it from here. We couldn’t have produced this summary so easily; perhaps you couldn’t produce the prognosis.

[Reverting to TGU in Roman, me in itals]

Go ahead, it’ll be a pleasure to merely write.

As if you ever confined yourself to that! But here it is. Just as a medical virus is most deadly among those with the most compromised immune systems, so a social virus attacks a society’s weakest points, not its strengths Or rather, so a broad unfocused attack is most destructive to the weak points, not the strong points. And that’s what you’re seeing, as we will explain next time.

I feel like I got carried away, but even what I did say didn’t scratch the surface.

No, it’s fine. People need the perspective, and they aren’t going to spend years acquiring it. A few pages won’t overwhelm anybody, and remember, these are words used as sparks, not as building blocks. You will have set some people to seeing things in a new way, and you’ll never know who, nor is there any reason that you need to know.

Okay, well, I feel like this time you should be telling me, “Thanks for all this.” 🙂  Till next time.


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