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The American Government and “Total War” on COVID-19

Authors: Griffin, Christopher;

The American Government and “Total War” on COVID-19

Abstract

In the Economic Impact Payment letter to American citizens in Spring 2020, President Donald Trump wrote that “we wage total war on this invisible enemy.” Trump likely did not intend to explicitly link this to the rich theory about “total war” in military history, but this article examines the American rhetoric surrounding the war on COVID-19 to see whether it corresponds to definitions of total war in military strategic thought. The Clausewitzian origins of the idea of “absolute war” and limited war will also be examined to ascertain their relevance as a framework for understanding the American approach to the conflict with the virus. A total war strategy would have implied either mobilizing the entire population into the health sector or imposing a total national lockdown. This article examines both the strategy outlined by Donald Trump and the reality of what was undertaken by the Federal Government. The military was involved in the war effort against the virus in the U.S., but only in a logistical and financial sense. A national lockdown was never intended due to its potential adverse effects on the economy, and in any case, the Federal Government did not have the authority to impose health policy on individual states and local authorities. The result was a variety of local responses to the crisis with little federal coordination, much like what occurred with the Influenza Epidemic of 1918-19. Despite its military and hyperbolic rhetoric, the Trump Administration did not choose a total war strategy. Instead, it decided to adopt a limited holding strategy that accepted human losses while protecting the economy and waiting for a Government-sponsored vaccine to save the day. Dans la lettre adressée aux citoyens américains au printemps 2020 qui accompagnait un versement censé diminuer l’impact économique de la pandémie, le président Donald Trump écrivait : « nous menons une guerre totale contre cet ennemi invisible. » Trump n'avait probablement pas l’intention d'établir un lien explicite avec la célèbre théorie de la « guerre totale » en histoire militaire, néanmoins cet article examine la rhétorique américaine autour de la guerre contre le COVID-19 pour voir dans quelle mesure elle peut correspondre aux définitions de la « guerre totale » dans la pensée stratégique militaire. Les origines clausewitziennes de la notion de « guerre absolue » et de « guerre limitée » seront également examinées afin de déterminer leur pertinence comme cadre conceptuel pour comprendre l’approche américaine dans sa lutte contre le virus. Une stratégie de guerre totale aurait impliqué soit la mobilisation de l’ensemble de la population dans le secteur de la santé, soit l’imposition d’un confinement national total. Cet article examine la stratégie exposée par Donald Trump et la réalité de ce qui a été entrepris par le gouvernement fédéral. Si l’armée a bien participé à l’effort de guerre contre le virus aux États-Unis, cet effort était uniquement logistique et financier. Un confinement national n’a jamais été envisagé en raison de ses effets négatifs potentiels sur l’économie et, de toutes façons, le gouvernement fédéral n’avait pas le pouvoir d’imposer une politique sanitaire aux différents États et autorités locales. Le résultat a été une variété de réponses locales à la crise avec peu de coordination fédérale, un peu comme ce qui s'est passé avec l’épidémie de grippe de 1918-19. Malgré son discours martial et hyperbolique, l’administration Trump n’a pas choisi une stratégie de guerre totale. Au lieu de cela, elle a adopté une stratégie d’attente limitée, acceptant les pertes humaines, tout en cherchant à protéger l’économie jusqu’à ce qu’un vaccin financé par le gouvernement vienne sauver la situation.

Country
France
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Subjects by Vocabulary

Microsoft Academic Graph classification: Total war Political science Economic impact analysis Health policy Government Limited war Spanish Civil War Political economy Military history Administration (government)

Keywords

Cultural Studies, Linguistics and Language, History, World War II, Literature and Literary Theory, US Government, Trump Donald, PE1-3729, stimulus, Language and Linguistics, [SHS]Humanities and Social Sciences, lockdown, total war, D, Seconde Guerre Mondiale, COVID, guerre absolue, Clausewitz Carl von, pandémie, pandemic, extrême droite, COVID-19, absolute war, rhéthorique politique, far-right, gouvernement américain, English language, political rhetoric, confinement, History (General) and history of Europe, guerre totale, Donald Trump

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https://www.ctbto.org/nuclear-testing/history-of-nuclear-testing/manhattan-project/ Coutau-Bégarie, Hervé. Traité de Stratégie, 5e édition. Paris: Economica, 2003.

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citations
This is an alternative to the "Influence" indicator, which also reflects the overall/total impact of an article in the research community at large, based on the underlying citation network (diachronically).
BIP!Citations provided by BIP!
popularity
This indicator reflects the "current" impact/attention (the "hype") of an article in the research community at large, based on the underlying citation network.
BIP!Popularity provided by BIP!
influence
This indicator reflects the overall/total impact of an article in the research community at large, based on the underlying citation network (diachronically).
BIP!Influence provided by BIP!
impulse
This indicator reflects the initial momentum of an article directly after its publication, based on the underlying citation network.
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