Spc. William Manning, assigned to the New York Army National Guard 369th, walks to check that motorists keep their windows closed at a drive-thru COVID-19 sampling site in Stony Brook, N.Y., March 18, 2020. New York Army National Guard members are supporting the multi-agency response to COVID-19. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Sean Madden)

PERSPECTIVE: Getting the Nation on a War Footing to Battle Coronavirus

World War III has officially descended upon us. I don’t take this statement lightly as many people who sacrificed and served in the first two world wars looked into the eyes of hell. For many of them, it was their last vision. For many of us, it may also be.

This new enemy did the unthinkable and found its way to U.S. shores. And now, the country braces for a glimpse of what war encompass as most of us are typically distant from the battle lines and, well, ambivalent of the sacrifice required to win wars. When we send our soldiers off to war, it is their job and those of us at home carry on for when our heroes return. Only now, we will need heroes on the home front. These battles will be won by local communities who work with public health officials and make the sacrifices that put others before self or our selfishness.

“Mike, Mike, Mike, you are being too dramatic.” Well, am I?

COVID-19, or the coronavirus, is an invasion that manifests very differently than the destruction of bombs and the potential for bullet-riddled corpses dawning the roadways. The virus attacked us where we live, where we play, and where we gather. The virus takes advantage of the tendencies that typically define our American lives. This exploitation includes taking victims in school systems, energetic restaurants, robust bar scenes, and professional conferences.

The enemy has found a way into our lives by exploiting those social norms like shaking hands, a practice that make us “civil.” It has also exacerbated bad habits like not washing hands and ignoring public officials who attempt to change our behavior. Sure, there are conventions about how we should fight wars. However, there are no rules about who your enemies must be or in what form they will come.

This virus has mastered a brilliant tactic of war, infecting the weakest and wisest family members. Senior citizens are most vulnerable, as are those with compromised immune systems. Younger people who may be asymptomatic can infect and kill other people yet never show signs of illness themselves. This stealth is the brilliance of our enemy.

In times like these, adaptation and teamwork take on a greater meaning. Words like “an inconvenience” and “personal loss” must be stricken from our selfish vocabulary. There will be lives lost and financial consequences like in previous wars. People will be asked by the U.S. government to take actions that might disadvantage them in ways others aren’t sacrificing. Only in this case, we can’t afford dissent. Everyone must be on board and row with the rest of the boat for maximum power.

We all know some people will always protest the war. However, even people, “the patriots,” question the nation’s ability to manage the undefined parameters of this war. Some of them will push back on government intervention when the order stifles freedom of movement. Who can blame them? They lied to us before and dragged the nation into military conflicts. The wounds and wars are still fresh.

There is no telling how long this war will go on. This enemy does not go away with the signing of a treaty or the capture of a flag. Coronavirus fights until its end. It is highly contagious, and even the airborne droplets can remain infectious and deadly. Like hidden mines and munitions from distant wars, the coronavirus can live on surfaces for days. The weaponry is akin to our stealth fighters and high-value tools in our arsenal. Even when we have declared victory over it, the virus will take new shape and lurk among the others we have managed to suppress across many years.

President Donald Trump has also referred to this attack by the coronavirus as a war. “We’re going to win,” he proclaimed. This prediction diverges from the lack of success from past continental U.S. wars like the “war on drugs” or the ongoing war against lessor enemies, like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bugs.

Just the analogy of war does not move us into battle mode. It is empty if the nation struggles to get on a war footing. As we have witnessed across the world, the squeezing of lungs is the grip that helps the coronavirus bring people, its enemy, to submission. The virus is surely in battle mode and seeks to take our last breath. We win by infusing extreme public-private partnership into the war effort. That’s correct: We can collectively take actions that reduce the number of casualties and stops the virus from overwhelming our systems. Thus, making us stronger by the day.

Each community must believe in this fight and execute accordingly. We must know that the veracity of this virus and the stealth in its delivery doesn’t define us. However, the inability to quickly test (identifying the infected) and find where the enemy resides will undermine the best intentions of all communities on the frontlines.

Governance is the belief the government is in control in a crisis. The truth is war requires sacrifice from citizens to make a nation victorious. This trust is where the strength of the government is derived. Unfortunately, the rhetoric and distrust about the adequacy of the government’s response have already given rise to conspiracy theories undermining required national unity. Only the government can dismantle this time bomb.

We will undoubtedly win this war with a more cohesive battle plan and the ensuing tightening of the ranks that makes everyone in the nation accountable to each other. Failure of the government to show more leadership will be akin to putting contaminated hands to our faces.

May God bless the United States of America.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

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Michael A. Echols is a senior cybersecurity executive and critical infrastructure protection strategist working with senior corporate leaders and government officials to make the nation more resilient. He is leading a revolution to stand-up and support Information Sharing and Analysis Organizations (ISAO). As such, Mr. Echols leads a global effort to harmonize cyber threat information sharing. Previously, Mr. Echols managed cyber resiliency programs for the Department of Homeland Security while assisting in the advancement of risk reduction. As the point person for the rollout of President Obama's EO 13691, he developed a national program for ISAOs. At DHS, Mr. Echols chaired activities optimizing national programs, cybersecurity strategy, interagency coordination, public safety and counterterrorism across federal agencies and the private sector. Mr. Echols Chaired the Communications Sector, IT Sector and managed the President's National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee. Mr. Echols' leadership has resulted in value creation and models for Government and Industry partnerships across the Communications, IT, and other critical sectors. He has aligned risk management strategies between operations, policy, and tactical to support the evolving hazards to the nation. He plays a key role in developing the programmatics, and manages the broad array of Presidential advisory, sector partnership initiatives, policy issuances, congressional testimony and technology assessments required to increase the return on investment of Government / Industry cyber efforts. Prior to joining the Government as a Federal employee, Mr. Echols advised federal officials and served DHS as a consultant on matters related to outreach, threat information management, protection of national networks, national security, emergency communications, and disaster management.

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