7 hours ago
Government leaders everywhere are calling for their people to wage war against the coronavirus outbreak, recalling past victories in an effort to boost public morale. In Britain, politicians cite the Second World War as a suitable example of determined and successful resistance to a terrifying enemy.
Yet the faltering response of the British authorities to the Covid-19 pandemic so far is much closer to the failures of 1914 than anything that happened in 1940. The parallels are striking between the crisis today and the one that exploded on the world just over a hundred years ago. Then as now there was poor leadership – inadequately prepared and hampered by an initially mistaken strategy – sending frontline forces over the top to suffer massive losses. The difference is that then the casualties were in the British army and today they are in the NHS.
“Lions led by donkeys,” was the phrase used to condemn the waste of lives by incompetent First World War generals and their political masters. The same words could be used again today: once the shortages were of machine guns and artillery shells while now they are of ventilators, surgical masks and testing kits. The common feature is that in both cases the shortage will kill or disable a proportion of those who do not receive essential equipment.