by Kirthi Jayakumar
Even as some leaders prioritized the safety, good health, and protection of their citizens, several more world over began to deploy the long-used war-mongering rhetoric: from declaring war on the coronavirus (India, USA) to calling the virus an invisible enemy and invoking the “Dunkirk spirit” (UK). In this war-mentality ridden pursuit of strategizing in response to the pandemic, there is a deeper dynamic at play: one that prioritizes and fronts the leader, that asks for an unquestioning all-hands-on-deck attitude, and one that demarcates the public and the private spheres, the personal and the political – when in reality, the personal is political is personal.
The pandemic has laid bare the social, cultural, economic, and political inequalities that ail the global society. These inequalities emerged from structures that have constantly been upheld with power, patriarchy, and privilege, and have left several segments of society vulnerable on account of gender, race, caste, religion, colour, and class. Warmongering policies and rhetoric are the game-face of such structure: In the words of Madeline Rees and Christine Chinkin, “This militarism is dependent on the elevation of a particular construction of masculinity which necessitates a binary notion of gender. It is dangerous; war requires loyalty, deepens gendered divisions and sets in place a framework which, even before the curve is flattened, establishes what the post-pandemic priorities will be, unless alternatives become established policy now.”
This war-like language is more than just a bunch of words. In mobilizing communities into the “war effort,” governments world over have focused away from the impact of their policies on the local communities in their nations. For instance, the mass migration sparked off by the lockdown in India, the escalated police and state violence against the Romani people, the global rise in domestic violence against women, and the rise in gender-based violence against individuals identifying as LGBTQIA+ persons are some of the many issues that have received official attention and redress. The pandemic has not caused these inequalities – but has both showcased and exacerbated an existing socio-economic and political reality encumbering all of humanity at once.
To distract from the egregious failing of structures and systems in place is to foment those very structures and systems, and to enable a poorly equipped set up to continue, sweeping its failings under the carpet. It is also to prioritize privilege over those that are adversely affected by it, and serves to constantly target some bodies instead of providing for them.
Cynthia Enloe summarized the fallacies of war-mongering rhetoric in these times with the COVID-19 pandemic in the following words: ““Waging a war” is the most deceptively alluring analogy for mobilizing private and public resources to meet a present danger. We should, however, resist that allure. We have learned – feminist investigators have taught us repeatedly – that in myriad countries and across generations war waging has fueled sexism, racism, homophobia, autocracy, secrecy and xenophobia. None of those will prevent a pandemic. They will never promote trustworthy science and functional medical infrastructures. They will not protect the most vulnerable among us. They will not keep us all safe. They most certainly will not lay the groundwork for post-pandemic democracy. War waging, nonetheless, is such a tempting analogy precisely because so many of us and so many of our cultural and political leaders cherry-pick their wars and cherry- pick what they want us to remember about each war.”