We shouldn’t be grading ‘mass casualty events’ such as pandemics and world wars together

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL October 14, 2020

A US Centers for Disease Control computer rendering of Covid-19

I was very struck by the following rundown on so-called mass casualty events in the past hundred years. That’s a euphemism if there ever was one. A mass casualty event aka something that caused hundreds of thousands to die.

Anyway, Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent of The New York Times, tweeted the toll. It shows pretty much where we are in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. There is quite a distance to go – in terms of lives tragically lost – in comparison to the 1918-20 Influenza pandemic. God willing, we won’t get there.

But here’s the problem with putting mass casualties caused by a war in the same category as those from a pandemic. There has long been a tendency to frame disease in terms of war but it can reduce the complexity of the problem.

If we are focussed solely on “beating” the virus and medical professionals are supposed to be “troops” on the “frontline”, we’re probably less likely to  consider all the factors that might have contributed to the outbreak of disease. For instance, deforestation, destroyed habitats and risk factors such as poor air quality.

Truth, as they say, is the first casualty in the fog of war. (There we go again.)