An American baby-boomer, born in the post-war years of unprecedented financial security and well-being, I grew up in the best of all possible worlds. The tail-end of an older and simpler time still existed, at least remnants of it did, as well as some of people of that time, and I was blessed to know a few of them, as well as a child may ever know an adult. The world was still uncrowded enough, and considered safe enough, that children were allowed freedoms that are unknown and inconceivable today. Yet new and modern advances (vaccines, medical procedures, means of travel, the interstate system, technology, pharmaceuticals, chemical discoveries, inventions) all made our lives easier and safer than they had been for earlier generations.
It was, at least for modestly well-to-do middleclass families, an unprecedented time of plenty, and we all thought the good times would last forever.
The first hint I had that it might all end came in college. I took a geology class (primarily because it promised a certain number of field trips, and anything that got me outdoors was better than anything that kept me sitting in a classroom) taught by a stocky former Marine. I made the mistake of judging the book by its cover and sagged when I first saw him. He was the antithesis of the sixties, with ramrod posture, flattop (my hair was down to my shoulders), trim, neat, and he radiated authority. He was also one of the finest and most fascinating professors I had at a college that had many fine professors.
But in one lecture, when he was discussing arable soil types around the world, he digressed. The Great Chinese Famine had occurred only a few years earlier (1959-1961) and he discussed the causes of that, some of which were, to a small extent, the result of a sequence of natural and climactic disasters, but most of which were the result of the Chinese Communist Party’s appallingly bad economic and agrarian programs, and the callous entrenchment of the party and Chairman Mao. For those of you too young to remember these things, regard the official photograph of Chairman Mao above, fat and sleek and complacent; now consider that an estimated thirty- to forty-five-million (that’s 45,000,000) Chinese starved to death around the same time that official photograph was taken. If you have a strong stomach, do some research: among the accounts of rampant cannibalism and tens of thousands dying literally at the doors of storage warehouses where grain was kept that could have saved them, you can also find some photographs of the starving; they’ll get your attention. You can also find some of the propaganda photographs the Communists manufactured to try and hide the massive die-off of their people, with well-fed party members dressed up in sparkling clean peasant clothing, pretending to be happily harvesting the non-existent grain in the non-existent and painstakingly faked fields of plenty. But during his lecture, my professor stopped and commented that he would not live to see it, but that we—his students—might, and our children definitely would live to see a time when nations like China and India and the whole northern half of Africa were no longer able to feed themselves, and America would have to choose between feeding itself and sending food to the rest of the world. People would starve then, he said, not in the millions, but in the billions. Of course, he added, it might also happen because of a more deadly and contagious version of the 1918 pandemic.
And now here we are.
Do I think this is the biblical end of times, the pandemic that will end civilization as we know it, one of the seven plagues from the Book of Revelations? No. This is temporary. It will end in two months or ten or possibly twenty, but it will end and we, the human race, will get through it. But my greatest fear is that we will then resume our normal lifestyles and status quo, marching on as though nothing had happened, complacently profligate, dancing as though there had never been a break in the music.
Pandemic? What pandemic?
The two qualities man must have to survive are adaptability and the capacity to learn from the past.
One of those is a natural and intrinsic quality: some people are, by nature, more adaptable than others and can roll with the punches an indifferent nature throws. Those people are most likely to survive whatever comes.
The other can be taught, but far too frequently is not.
Learning from experience, and from the past, what can we take from this viral pandemic that will help us cope with the future?
First is the lesson that the Chinese government is not our friend. The Chinese government is not honest, with us or their own people. The Chinese government does not give a damn about human life, be it their own people’s, ours, or the miserable Uighurs currently being “re-educated” in “labor camps.” The Chinese government has cunningly and unscrupulously used cheap labor and inhumane working practices and conditions to seduce profit-hungry American companies to send work overseas, with the result that China now wields disproportionate clout. Your Nike shoes and other products used to be outsourced by China to Ethiopia, where workers are paid even less than they are in China, but the non-partisan think-tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute now states that Uighurs are used as slaves in the labor camps to manufacture products for global companies. The global brands that profit from the Chinese-enforced slave labor include (as of 2019): Abercrombie & Fitch, Acer, Adidas, Alstom, Amazon, Apple, ASUS, BAIC Motor, BMW, Bombardier, Bosch, BYD, Calvin Klein, Candy, Carter’s, Cerruti 1881, Changan Automobile, Cisco, CRRC, Dell, Electrolux, Fila, Founder Group, GAC Group (automobiles), Gap, Geely Auto, General Motors, Google, Goertek, H&M, Haier, Hart Schaffner Marx, Hisense, Hitachi, HP, HTC, Huawei, iFlyTek, Jack & Jones, Jaguar, Japan Display Inc., L.L.Bean, Lacoste, Land Rover, Lenovo, LG, Li-Ning, Mayor, Meizu, Mercedes-Benz, MG, Microsoft, Mitsubishi, Mitsumi, Nike, Nintendo, Nokia, The North Face, Oculus, Oppo, Panasonic, Polo Ralph Lauren, Puma, Roewe, SAIC Motor, Samsung, SGMW, Sharp, Siemens, Skechers, Sony, TDK, Tommy Hilfiger, Toshiba, Tsinghua Tongfang, Uniqlo, Victoria’s Secret, Vivo, Volkswagen, Xiaomi, Zara, Zegna, ZTE. You can add God only knows how many medicines and medical supplies to that list. How many products by those companies do you own? Who among us can live our daily lives without owning products from at least some of those companies? Now consider that you are not only benefitting from slave labor and contributing to the wealth of companies that know damn well and good what they are doing, but you are also contributing to the wealth of the Chinese government and it is happily spending that vast wealth on buying, if not the loyalty, at least the cooperation of strategically located countries around the world to extend and strengthen its global influence even more. (It’s called the Belt and Road Initiative and it should scare the hell out of anyone with an IQ above room temperature.) Yet try finding an American alternative to the products you need or want.
Which brings me to the lesson I most hope America learns from this, learns and remembers: if you depend on a foreign country, any foreign country, to manufacture your essential goods for you, you become that country’s slave, even if the country is well-intentioned. No one can accuse China of having good intentions toward the West, and especially not toward America. Let us hope American companies and consumers now realize the error of exporting jobs for quicker profits, and that Americans once again embrace the idea of the kind of hard work and resultant prosperity that made the post-World War Two years so golden. In every sense of that word. You can encourage that by buying American-made products whenever you can and by agitating to have corporations bring jobs back home.
But more than that, a far more important lesson I hope we all learn as individuals is to love and cherish one another as Christ instructed us to do. Wanting to see this beloved family member or that old friend, or wanting something as simple as worshipping with our friends and neighbors, and not being able to is a painful reminder of how brief our time is. And with this dreadful virus stalking the globe, it may be months before we can see some loved ones again. Call, write, Skype, or do whatever, but let them know you love them.