COVID-19 is America’s Hiroshima

By Umair Haque

It’s hard to express — let alone process, grapple with, grasp — the scale of death that’s taken place in America. As a result not just of a deadly pandemic — but of the incompetence, negligence, and malign indifference of the Trump Administration. And, of course, the American Idiots who protest angrily at wearing masks, believe it’s all a hoax, think freedom is free-dumb, being able to spread a lethal virus.

Sometimes, though, history is the best teacher. Recently, the world marked a grim anniversary: 75 years after Hiroshima. And in my local European dog park, where memories of that terrible war linger — as they should — we began to talk about it. The war, the devastation, the aftermath. It was then that my friend Claudine remarked: “But Covid is a Hiroshima, non?”

It took me a moment to understand what she meant.

America now has — officially — 166,000 deaths and counting. The NYT remarked 13 August — finally — that the true toll, the “excess mortality”, as epidemiologists define it, deaths due directly and indirectly to Covid, is north of 200,000. More than two hundred thousand people are dead.

It’s difficult to process a number like that because there aren’t very many comparisons in modern history for needless mass death at this scale. There is one terrible outlier, though.
Hiroshima. The death toll of the twin bombings there and at Nagasaki? Somewhere between 150,000 and 250,000 people. It’s difficult to say for sure because — as Covid’s teaching America — though every life is a delicate and precious thing, mass death is imprecise, blunt, like a scythe cutting down a field, not an embrace holding a child.

See the eerie parallels already? Death toll of the only nuclear bombing in human history: 150,000–250,000 people. Death toll of Covid in America? Already 170,000–200,000, which is easily going to reach 250,000. So high that even attempting to count all that death becomes an exercise in imprecision and estimation.

Covid is America’s Hiroshima. The only time a nuclear bomb was dropped on human beings in history is probably the closest analogy there is for Covid’s impact on America. It’s that catastrophic, what Covid’s been allowed to become, a pandemic which span out of control.

Let me crystallise that point.

Covid is America’s Hiroshima. The only time a nuclear bomb was dropped on human beings in history is probably the closest analogy there is for Covid’s impact on America. It’s that catastrophic, what Covid’s been allowed to become, a pandemic which span out of control.

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We often say that things have “gone nuclear.” We use it, in the vernacular, maybe, to express a worst-case scenario, perhaps with a sense of irony, to be humorous. It’s rare that we mean it — precisely because there are few things which rival the death toll of the only nuclear bombing in history. We use it to express a thing at the outer limits of our capacity to imagine catastrophe.
But Covid in America literally has gone nuclear. It’s one of modern history’s only examples of a catastrophe at the level and scale of the only nuclear bombing ever. That’s how bad it is.

Let me put that in context. You might protest, “But Chernobyl!” The upper limit of Chernobyl’s death toll was… 5000. Japan’s great tsunami of 2017? About 20,000 people.

The most well-known recent disaster which comes remotely close to Covid going nuclear in America? It’s the great tsunami of 2004. It took an undersea earthquake registering at 9.1 — practically topping the Richter Scale — to generate that. 225,000 people died, across many countries. Let me put that more simply: it took one of the biggest earthquakes in history, one of the biggest possible, to rival how catastrophic Corona’s impact on America’s been allowed to become.

That points to a larger truth.

Covid in America’s already up there with the greatest natural disasters in recorded modern history. The biggest one? Probably the Bhola cyclone in 1970, which killed 500,000 people in Bangladesh and India. Then there were China’s floods of the 1930s, in which north of 400,000 perished. Haiti’s terrible earthquake of 2010 took somewhere between 100,000 to 300,000 lives.

Covid in America’s already a catastrophe at the highest level that there is. That’s how bad it is. It is already one of the greatest disasters in modern history.

The reason that the most appropriate comparison for Covid in America is Hiroshima, though, not history’s great earthquake or tsunamis, is simple. Covid in America isn’t a natural disaster. It’s a man-made one. Just like Hiroshima was.

Who’s responsible for Covid going from preventable disaster to out-of-control nuclear-level catastrophe? Donald Trump. Believe me when I say I have no desire to politicize any of this, but the simple fact is that the buck stops with the President. Instead of calling emergency cabinet meetings and drafting a national Covid strategy — Trump told people to inject Lysol, drink bleach, and then played golf. America still doesn’t have a national Covid strategy — and that’s why so many have died. You can’t beat the virus without one. You can barely beat it with one.

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All this death in America, exploding like a nuclear bomb — the fact is that it was mostly needless. If America had controlled the virus like New Zealand? With swift, decisive action, based on science and evidence? Simple things like testing and tracing and (real) lockdowns? The death toll could have been less than 10,000. In fact, I found that if the US had locked down as fast and effectively as New Zealand, just 1,500 would have died.

If you don’t buy my calculation, go ahead and try this one. Oxford researchers created a Stringency Index of measures put in place to control Coronavirus. They found almost exactly the same thing I did: if the US had implemented measures at the level of Germany, 35,000 would have died. If the US had been as responsive as Australia? Just 1,300 would have died.
Can you feel how I’m struggling to express this? We run out of words to even describe events of this magnitude. All we really have, I think, is history. Comparisons, to past tragedies, which tell the tales of folly and grief and ruin.

Maybe that — it’s hard to express, process, grasp — is why, right about now, Americans seem to be doing a thing which they do, which is one of their flaws, their faults, maybe their Achilles Heel. Shrugging it off. “Moving forward,” as they say. They’re normalising something unthinkable. Just like they did with camps, bans, raids, purges, endless wars. Only now we’re talking about mass death on the level of the greatest disasters in modern history. Mass death at the scale of a nuclear bomb. Should a society make its peace with that, shrug it off, normalise it?

Let me add one final gruesome truth, then.

The only question now is: are Americans going to hold him accountable for it, and boot him out of office, at the very least — or are they, as a stunned, horrified world now thinks, a nation of unfortunate idiots (no, not all of them, not even most of them, but enough of them), who’ll do something that drops the jaw of every sane person left alive: shrug off mass death and suffering at the actual, literal, lethally real scale of a nuclear bomb.

Remember when I said Covid in America’s literally gone nuclear? How its death toll is, at this moment, almost exactly equivalent to Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

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Here’s one even more horrific fact.

In fact, even that’s an understatement — because the Covid death toll is going to keep climbing. When it passes 250,000 — as it surely will — it’ll be worse than Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

So let me say it again.

Covid is America’s Hiroshima.

America’s a society whose President has dropped the equivalent of an atomic bomb on it.
The only good parallel there is in modern history for a man-made catastrophe at this scale — which is what Covid is — is the only nuclear bombing in history, too. Eerily, right about now, the death tolls are strikingly similar.

Think about that for a second. The malice, indifference, negligence, and utter stupidity it takes to drop a nuclear bomb on…your own country. That’s effectively what Donald Trump’s done to America, through his indifference, maybe even malice. The deaths have already happened. Covid went nuclear. But it’s not nearly over yet. The deaths will continue to climb, for the foreseeable future. America’s a society suffering the equivalent of a thermonuclear war at this point. Only, its own President is the one dropping the nukes.

The only question now is: are Americans going to hold him accountable for it, and boot him out of office, at the very least — or are they, as a stunned, horrified world now thinks, a nation of unfortunate idiots (no, not all of them, not even most of them, but enough of them), who’ll do something that drops the jaw of every sane person left alive: shrug off mass death and suffering at the actual, literal, lethally real scale of a nuclear bomb.

*Umair Haque first published this article in Medium