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World War C – coronavirus and the human species

We have to fight the war against Covid19 as a species.

My son Bill came up with this.

After Boris Johnson’s order to the British nation to stay at home, he said “This is like World War C!” He was referring to the brilliant Zombie plague book “World War Z” by Max Brooks and the movie starring Brad Pitt. (If you haven’t read the book yet, do it now.)

While there aren’t any visible zombie hordes wandering around eating people, I think that the title of World War C is a good one.

Wars and pandemics

Why? A pandemic is very different from a war, after all. With a war there are bullets, explosions, enemies and all the rest of the savage, dramatic and sorrowful paraphernalia. With a pandemic, not so much.

A war is an outbreak of violence between two or more sides, often officially sanctioned by a government. There is usually a long drawn out period of manoeuvring and small outbreaks before the war actually starts. A war can be declared to have started and a peace treaty often ends it. Between those two events, and before and after, horrible destruction and loss of life happens.

A pandemic is an outbreak of communicable disease which can occur anywhere but often begins in cities. It’s the blind action of a bacterium or a virus which just wants to reproduce. Governments may ignore it to start with, but they eventually get the message. Interestingly, there is usually a pre-outbreak period where worrying clusters of symptoms are ignored or covered up. There is no declaration and no peace treaty but horrible loss of life will happen.

War mindset

I think there is real value in using the war metaphor. Unfortunately, we jumped-up apes are very good at doing whatever it takes to exterminate our human enemies. We’re also excellent at exterminating animals who dare to compete with us as top predator or for food, brilliant at exterminating insects and trees wherever it suits us. But we’re not so good at causing the extinction of bacteria and viruses that kill us in our millions. So far we’ve only succeeded with smallpox and rinderpest (a cattle disease related to measles). We nearly did it with measles — a very nasty illness — but flubbed that because a few of us decided that the vaccination against it was worse than the disease (it isn’t).

So let’s think of this whole strange period of lockdowns as “World War C.” Our enemy this time isn’t another bunch of humans with different flags: it’s a genuinely dangerous but utterly tiny package of RNA, a coronavirus, which causes just as much suffering in a slower and less dramatic way. It isn’t malevolent except by accident — it’s more like a horde of billions and trillions of minuscule robots than anything else.

We have to fight World War C against an invisible silent foe that is everywhere. We have to do it by changing our natural behaviour utterly: social distancing is anathema to the hypersocial ape that we are; staying indoors all the time, the same. This time there’s none of the drama and heroics of a shooting war with other humans. We have to win by what we don’t do — always a challenge for us.

But we can do this. Compared to fighting an actual war, this is easy. In fact it’s a doddle.

By following fairly simple rules which I won’t insult you by repeating again, we can do this.

Support the troops

That way we will support the frontline troops in World War C — the medical staff who are already stretched and in difficulty; the logistics people moving food and goods around; the binmen and undertakers who will also be stretched; the armed forces picking up the slack and building temporary hospitals.

Deliberately taking on a wartime mindset against Covid 19, will help us. It will clarify the right way and wrong way to behave. The people who selfishly flocked to the beaches and rushed down to their second homes and caravan sites in Cornwall and Wales last weekend — on the grounds that they’re special and they might not get the chance later — may understand why they should feel ashamed of themselves.


I also think that when it’s all over, medals should be handed out for courage — for instance to the medical staff in the UK and elsewhere who are still currently working with grossly inadequate protective gear in the full knowledge that they might catch Covid19. Of course, some medals may have to be given posthumously.

And we have to fight World War C as a species because it crosses frontiers and ignores nationality, even though we are having to fight it piecemeal at the moment. In fact I think the WHO should give out the medals. If we had had a true pan-global WHO Pandemic Watch that could leap into action with universally accepted orders to stay home and wash hands, close schools, bars and restaurants, don’t you think that we would already be seeing a fall in all those ominous graphs? Don’t you think that certain politicians would have got their act together a lot sooner?

Unite as a species

Nobody would have chosen this method of welding us together as a single species — but since it’s here, let’s use it to fight for unity and not separatism. People who call Covid19 the “Chinese” virus are childish. What does it matter where it came from?

World War C — the war against the coronavirus. With the whole human species focussed on stopping the virus in whatever way we can, whether by self-isolating at home or helping to develop a new vaccine, we will win.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill himself: “We shall fight in the hospitals, we shall fight in the laboratories and workshops, we shall fight in the shops and in the streets, we shall fight in our homes; we shall never surrender.”


  1. kz says:

    one womsn in an op ed piece here in portland oregon said we should not csll it social distsncing but phyical distsncing and she isc quite right. lots of prople sre dping a great job of socializing. my favorite is people of all agrs in front of their houses dancing to the same song. lots ofbcrestivevdocializing going on.
    but yes, like your remake of Churchhills famous call to arms. alas in american our Prez thought only about his reelectipn before rralizing you ccant con a virus

    1. I quite agree – I don’t like the phrase social distancing either. It is indeed physical distancing. I’m making an effort to contact people via zoom etc. As for Trump. I suspect he’s going to be found wanting and it won’t be pretty. When you’ve persuaded a lot of people to put faith in you and then betrayed that faith, repeatedly, and obviously, I think there may come a reckoning.

  2. Robin McLennan says:

    I hope you are right and they will notice that they have been betrayed but I fear that his followers have relinquished the ability to think for themselves (forgetting how very recently Trump called it “a Democrat hoax” and choosing to believe his constant lies about how it’s all his enemies’ fault and that we should all be thanking him for the tremendous job he has done. Don’t get me started!

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