Commentary: We’re at war

The entire world is at war with an invisible enemy: the COVID-19 coronavirus.

After downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus threat for weeks, President Donald Trump now correctly acknowledges that to be the case.

This is a very different kind of war than what we are used to. Instead of soldiers, the heroes risking their lives to fight this war are doctors, nurses and other health care professionals. Public health experts, not generals, are crafting the battle plan. The military has a role in this fight, but the microscopic enemy can’t be killed with bullets or bombs. We need tests and treatments to face this foe, and unfortunately, we do not have enough of them.

This is a war that will define our generation, much like the War on Terrorism defined the post-9/11 world. Incredibly, terrorism is no longer the world’s greatest threat. It’s germs. This war will leave a lasting impact and it will change how we think about the world, how we behave, our values and global politics.

Some, including President Trump, have compared the coronavirus threat to World War II. At press time more than 14,500 people in the world have died from COVID-19, but World War II killed 70 million to 85 million.

The World War II comparison makes more sense in terms of the collective sacrifice that we all have to make. During World War II that meant military service and rationing. In this war it’s all about social distancing, which has had a profound effect on our lives and our businesses. Sporting events, concerts and other gatherings have all been canceled. We can’t go out to eat or socialize. We can’t go to the gym, or even to church. Our economy has been devastated.

One of the biggest reasons the United States and its allies were victorious in World War II was that America’s manufacturing sector shifted production to produce the weapons, vehicles, planes and materials needed. We must take that approach again and use our nation’s manufacturing might to produce the medical supplies, protective gear and equipment, especially ventilators, that officials say are in short supply to fight COVID-19.

Trump signed the Defense Production Act to combat the virus, but says it would be better if companies willingly produce products to help fight COVID-19, rather than do so by government order. Several companies have expressed interest in producing needed supplies or equipment, including Ford, GM, Tesla, Hanes, Honeywell, GE Healthcare and 3M. The sooner they can do so, the better. Some have already begun.

A difficult struggle lies ahead. We need to continue to listen to and heed the advice of scientific experts.

We desperately need to restart our economy, but only once it’s safe to do so. The government will need to help businesses and individuals get by in the meantime.

Let’s all pull together. We will get through this.

Get our email updates

Andrew Weiland
Andrew Weiland is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, Weiland is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, and son, Zachary. He is an avid sports fan and enjoys coaching his son’s youth baseball and basketball teams.