The novel coronavirus pandemic is one of the nation’s greatest challenges since World War II, a war that fractured a significant portion of the economy and forced society to rearrange itself to fight back.
With COVID-19, we’ve nearly all been asked to quarantine ourselves and families. In the global spread of the coronavirus, we look to history for clues to understand what it means as a country to survive in an unpredictable climate.
“Students have grown up with the deep irony that our country has been at war for as long as war’s history. But they don’t feel it as such because, on the home front, we’ve been kind of trained to ignore our foreign conflicts as a war effort.” – Stephen Rachman, Michigan State University
“It’s very common to use metaphors of war when fighting disease, especially when we’re doing it collectively,” says Stephen Rachman, an English professor at Michigan State University. “For me, the uncanniness of this moment is the internet.”
“For years, we have been observing and talking about [social media] virality. Now, in 2020, we have become the internet itself in our bodies. We are watching a coronavirus go viral. We now get to feel what it is like to be the internet. Think of humans [and everything we touch] as a site of virality where the world wide web of connection has left its traces.”
Rachman says that many of his students have described COVID-19 as being the “biggest event that has occurred in their lives.”
“These students have grown up with the deep irony that our country has been at war for as long as war’s history. But they don’t feel it as such because, on the home front, we’ve been kind of trained to ignore our foreign conflicts as a war effort. That’s the big emotional connection.”
Rachman, also the co-author of “Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine: A Life of John Snow,” said that pandemics often reveal truths on cultural, political, and social fronts.
“They always reveal the hidden structures. The hidden forms of communication in society. They reveal our complicated and invisible food chain,” he says. “Pandemics reveal who the society cares about and who it ignores.”