Responding to COVID-19: Think through the Analogy of War

The tenth white paper in our series of COVID-19 resources is, “Responding to COVID-19: Think through the Analogy of War,” by Charles S. Maier and Ian Kumekawa.


Americans reach for the analogy of war in times of national emergency and particularly use our collective memory of World War II. To some degree, the military analogy serves a useful purpose. It offers a reminder of the importance of leadership and a coordinated response in a time of crisis. Still, this paper points out that the heroic narrative of mobilization for war obscures a complex history that have lessons for our own response, and leaves unresolved the question of what sort of postwar era we should strive for. We will learn more by remembering that the achievement of victory in World War II did not come easily through some overnight sublimation of partisan purpose and resolution of economic inefficiencies. Moreover, in mobilizing our response to the current crisis, we should not defer the importance of planning for peace.