Updated: Aug 7
CONTACT: John Norris 617-680-3127
A Race Against Time: We Are Not Prepared
America (and most other countries worldwide), including its government and prominent institutions, companies, and the like, got caught off guard when COVID-19 struck out of the blue. It was a sneak attack either by nature or by humankind. In either case, the lack of preparedness was astounding. Today, an outbreak can shift to any place in the world in just 24 hours. The bubonic plague killed half the world's population and took years to spread. Today, not camels but airplanes are the vehicle of choice.
Like the attack on Pearl Harbor, but far more sophisticated (infectious diseases are the ultimate stealth weapon) and devastating, this attack killed over a million Americans, not just the roughly two-thousand Americans who regrettably died at Pearl Harbor. Yet the Pearl Harbor attack created dozens of times more shock, fear, and disdain for the lack of unpreparedness by America’s government and business leaders.
For the unpreparedness at Pearl Harbor, admirals, generals, and even the President were viciously attacked by the press and, more importantly, by public opinion. Yet, this time, when the devastation was 500 times greater, few enterprise officials/officers have been attacked, lost their jobs, or worse, punished. And there is almost no lasting leader or public concern regarding COVID-19 or the next pandemic. We have washed our hands of it.
So why the difference? I would like to know why. So, like in the case of my call regarding identifying the precise source(s) and intent of the worldwide spread of COVID-19 and the poor management of its transmission, I now call for academic studies of “why.” What was America’s intent, and, more particularly, what was the intent of America’s leaders? Why were they and we unprepared?
Here are a few of the questions I would research using socioeconomic and political science methods: (1) Was it that there were other financial demands on scarce funding? (2) Was it ignorance of the magnitude of the risks? (3) Was it all political, national, or business? (4) Was it the lack of scientific warning? (5) Was it hubris that our continued reliance on 1918 strategies and methods would be enough? (6) Was it a belief that this could never (or at least while the leader was still an incumbent in their leadership post) happen and, therefore, preparedness now would be a waste of time and money?
Others may ask more or different questions. But you get the point.
In the meantime, let me share my thoughts. I am prepared to adjust this thinking once the studies are completed. But let me enhance America's leader’s thoughts now so I can stimulate the preparedness campaign and associated actions that are immediately desperately needed.
We likely will find that most of the deaths were among three groups of Americans. Those who were: (1) financially disadvantaged, (2) placed in poorly, either directly or indirectly, run nursing homes, and (3) low-paid, high-risk front-line employees working in cramped and otherwise highly exposed workplaces and high-risk jobs.
Why? My belief: No one cared sufficiently about them to protect them before or after an outbreak. They were discardable. And leaders' political or financial liability risk for discarding them was small. (Perhaps the courts are now catching up in the case of some business leaders. But it is politics as usual for most government leaders.)
But precisely because “important” groups were not killed, the most massive pandemic in recent times did not teach us much. If we, financially sound, well-placed individuals, and our families weren’t at high risk of dying, we cared little to none about the pace and scale at which others were dying. And accordingly, from this vast lesson, we learned little. We wore masks and got vaccinated and boosted. But cared little more.
America’s leaders, influencers, or even our otherwise cautious public are now all but blind to the scale of the future risks. If you go to a conference or theatre, there are no masks for the past. And no concerns about the future. Ask a hundred attendees. You get the same blank stare.
Next time, the pandemic might or will (my guess: “will”) also include three “more prominent” groups, groups that Americans (including especially our leaders and their families themselves) do not consider to be discardable. They care very much about (1) children (who are also often the biggest spreaders of disease, so vice versa), (2) higher-paid workers housed in larger, more spread out, better-ventilated, and otherwise better-protected workplaces, and (3) spouses who are at risk that we will kill them when we take the disease home, or vice versa.
The bubonic plague killed kings and masters as well as paupers. It did not discriminate.Can we focus now on the more significant threat without abandoning other great threats—to benefit “All”?
It is not that nuclear threats are not significant. It is that biological risks are greater. A sneak attack using a biological weapon is far safer and more profitable for the attacking hostile nation.
“Safer” for the attacker because the source (and obvious intent) of the nuclear attack can be discovered in minutes, not weeks or months, or even years, and therefore massive retaliation is a real counter-threat. Years after the COVID-19 attack, we still do not know if the attack was intentional or unintentional. I suspect the latter.
But we do not know. That is the point. Accordingly, in that case (and probably in most cases), the “retaliation threat” was and is still worthless. China, and all of America’s other biggest enemies, including Iran, North Korea, and Russia, knew and continue to know it.
“More profitable” to an attacking nation intending to occupy the US after the attack because, unlike bio attacks, nuclear attacks destroy homes, buildings, and other critical infrastructure.
I believe most hostile nation attacks are related to protecting their resources (preemptive) or obtaining coveted resources. They are not about anger. They are about “money.” They are about herd instincts built in genetically over thousands of years when resources were the difference between living or dying of starvation.
This was a lesson profoundly learned from WWII when America decided to spend a fortune rebuilding many parts of Europe and Asia. This was essential money that might otherwise have been spent on eliminating or reducing America’s poverty and healthcare disparities. I am not saying that all the money was wasted. I am saying that if we had not bombed cities to such an extent, money might have been available to do more domestically. Hostile nations have learned the same lesson from America’s mistake.
Yet, still, the topic of biological spread needs far more attention and funding. This is insane. Even for our business leaders, this is insane.
When the next pandemic hits, which almost certainly will happen soon, America’s leaders and their families (themselves) will be significantly exposed to transmission and loss of jobs (if they are or plan to be in office then). And this time, government and business leaders and their families will be killed. And for those who survive, they will and rightly should be punished. America’s leaders beware.
Dr. John Norris, JD, MBA
Founder and Executive Chairman
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