• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal


Is it time for our Spring fundraiser already? If you enjoy what we offer, and have the means, please consider donating. The sooner we reach our modest goal, the faster we can get back to business as (un)usual. Please, stay safe and we’ll see you down the road.

Banal Terrors: Pandemics and the Ordinary Business of War

The twaddle of framing the confrontation of the coronavirus as a “war” has proven to be a cheapening, misguided exercise. France’s president Emmanuel Macron has deemed COVID-19 the “invisible, elusive enemy”, making it sound like an adept guerrilla specialising in sneak attacks. China’s Xi Jinping has gone for the language of the “people’s war”, suggesting that the virus has certain class-ridden notions. President Donald Trump has characterised himself as “a wartime president”.

Implicit in such language is the idea that nothing else matters; the resources of humanity will be marshalled in finding a vaccine and stopping the spread of infections. Lives will be saved; the vulnerable will be spared. But as the pandemic spreads, actual wars continue being fought with gusto and viciousness. “The fury of the virus,” stated UN Secretary General António Guterres on March 23, “illustrates the folly of war.”

Such folly, it would seem, continues to prove captivating. The threat of COVID-19 has failed to penetrate the boardrooms behind murderous conflict. Military commanders remain engaged; the battle planners have not been retired or put on lengthy sabbaticals. In Yemen, matters of famine and killing continue in the usual insouciant way one has come to expect. The Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis continues with its ferocious air raids, one that has seen the destruction of the country’s infrastructure over the course of five years. Last week, 19 air raids were conducted on the capital Sanaa. Attempting to keep up appearances in the conflict, the Houthis had launched ballistic missiles at Riyadh and southern parts of the kingdom over that weekend. The UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths’ assessment is troubling. “Yemen needs its leaders to focus every minute of their time on averting and mitigating the potentially disastrous consequences of a COVID-19 outbreak.”

In Syria, war might be ebbing but COVID-19 has made its dreaded arrival. Official accounts suggest that figures are low: 10 so far. But conditions of conflict do little to confirm them. A health system patchy and in some cases ruined will have little clout in containing a pandemic, though individuals such as Samer Khodr, head of Damascus hospital, insist that both private and public hospitals are ready. Official narratives of courage and ability must be maintained. Besides, various powers continue to conduct a shadow conflict, with the US concerned of Iran’s influence.

The head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), Mark Lowcock, is not so confident having told the UN Security Council that, “All efforts to prevent, detect and respond to COVID-19 are impeded by Syria’s fragile health system.” Ideal conditions exist for a rapid transmission: poor sanitation; an almost total absence of social distancing; the challenges of acquiring medical supplies; vast internal population displacements. “After a terrible violence,” explained the UN Special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen to the UNSC, “an uneasy calm prevails on the ground; and now, Syrians face a new potentially devastating threat in COVID-19.”

In Libya, matters have been put on a more intense heat. The coronavirus risk there is far from negligible (there have already been 17 cases, with one death, reported), with a large internally displaced populace and 700,000 refugees providing ideal sites for transmission. Tarik Argaz, a spokesman for the UNHCR in Libya, gave Al Jazeera an account that would have alarmed those in the business of public health. “Detained asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable and exposed. They are staying in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions … and have access to very limited health assistance.”

Nationwide curfews have been imposed from 2pm to 7am and there are restrictions on movement. But this has not given pause to the civil strife that continues to plague the country, with the Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli facing the ever bolder General Khalifa Haftar with his Libyan National Army.

The chance for creating more mayhem has not escaped the determined general, who has been assaulting Tripoli since April last year. Even with the risk of pandemic spread, the city found itself the subject of intense bombardment last week. Hospitals have been targeted and Haftar’s forces continue the oil blockade that has seen a sharp spike in prices. War remains the general’s idée fixe. This has left the country in woeful state of preparation to combat any pandemic. Badereldine al-Najar, head of the Libyan National Centre for Disease Control, is both resigned and blunt in assessment: “In light of the lack of preparations, I now consider Libya not in a position to confront this virus.”

The continuing allure of war says much about an animal species that can still manage killing its own members even as it claims to fight a non-animal threat. Much of this goes to show that the words of Guterres – “It’s time to put armed conflict on lockdown” – seem like feeble utterances before the bullet and the battery.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

June 02, 2020
Zoltan Grossman
Deploying Federal Troops in a War at Home Would Make a Bad Situation Worse
Nicholas Buccola
Amy Cooper is Christian Cooper’s Lost, Younger Sister 
Manuel García, Jr.
Global Warming is Nuclear War
Patrick Cockburn
An Unavoidable Recognition of Failure: Trump’s Withdrawal From Afghanistan
John Feffer
Is It Time to Boycott the USA?
Kathy Kelly
Beating Swords to Plowshares
Lawrence Davidson
U.S. Urban Riots Revisited
Sam Pizzigati
“Failed State” Status Here We Come
Ron Jacobs
In Defense of Antifa
Cesar Chelala
Bolsonaro and Trump: Separated at Birth
George Wuerthner
The BLM’s License to Destroy Sagebrush Ecosystems
Danny Antonelli
The Absurdity of Hope
Binoy Kampmark
Sinister Flatulence: Trump Versus Twitter
John Stanton
How Much Violence and Destruction is Enough for Depraved American Leaders and Their Subjects?
Richard C. Gross
The Enemy Within
Thomas Knapp
Trump’s “Free Speech:” Doctrine: Never, Ever, Ever Mention He’s a Liar
John W. Whitehead
This Is Not a Revolution. It’s a Blueprint for Locking Down the Nation
June 01, 2020
Joshua Frank
It’s a Class War Now Too
Richard D. Wolff
Why the Neoliberal Agenda is a Failure at Fighting Coronavirus
Henry Giroux
Racial Domestic Terrorism and the Legacy of State Violence
Ron Jacobs
The Second Longest War in the United States
Kanishka Chowdhury
The Return of the “Outside Agitator”
Lee Hall
“You Loot; We Shoot”
Dave Lindorff
Eruptions of Rage
Jake Johnston
An Impending Crisis: COVID-19 in Haiti, Ongoing Instability, and the Dangers of Continued U.S. Deportations
Nick Pemberton
What is Capitalism?
Linda G. Ford
“Do Not Resuscitate”: My Experience with Hospice, Inc.
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Who Are the Secret Puppet-Masters Behind Trump’s War on Iran?
Manuel García, Jr.
A Simple Model for Global Warming
Howard Lisnoff
Is the Pandemic Creating a Resurgence of Unionism? 
Frances Madeson
Federal Prisons Should Not be Death Chambers
Hayley Brown – Dean Baker
The Impact of Upward Redistribution on Social Security Solvency
Raúl Carrillo
We Need a Public Option for Banking
Kathy Kelly
Our Disaster: Why the United States Bears Responsibility for Yemen’s Humanitarian Crisis
Sonali Kolhatkar
An Open Letter to Joe Biden on Race
Scott Owen
On Sheep, Shepherds, Wolves and Other Political Creatures
John Kendall Hawkins
All Night Jazz All The Time
Weekend Edition
May 29, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Tim Wise
Protest, Uprisings, and Race War
Nick Pemberton
White Supremacy is the Virus; Police are the Vector
T.J. Coles
What’s NATO Up to These Days? Provoking Russia, Draining Healthcare Budgets and Protecting Its Own from COVID
Benjamin Dangl
Bibles at the Barricades: How the Right Seized Power in Bolivia
Kevin Alexander Gray - Jeffrey St. Clair - JoAnn Wypijewski
There is No Peace: an Incitement to Justice
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Few Good Sadists
Jeff Mackler
The Plague of Racist Cop Murders: Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and the COVID-19 Pandemic
Joshua Frank
In Search of a Lost Socialism