Written and translated by Elena Couceiro and María del Vigo (WILPF Spain)
Professor Vicent Martínez Guzmán, prestigious international researcher for peace studies, used to say that a decolonization of our minds was necessary to transform the cultures of war into cultures of peace. In these times of confinement, his teachings should invite deep reflection. The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the lack of collective imaginaries that would allow us to become aware of the importance of care, of responsibility, of respect for one another, of a common wellbeing. Values that are traditionally associated with the feminine world are undervalued and we resort to the language of war to raise awareness of the greatness of the heroic deed.
“I must congratulate every Spanish citizen for the discipline that they are showing. All Spanish citizens are behaving like soldiers at this difficult time. In this irregular and strange war that we are living or fighting in, every one of us is a soldier”. The Spanish Chief of Defence Staff, General Miguel Ángel Villaroya, pronounced these words last Friday, during his regular morning appearance to discuss the coronavirus crisis. We are told that there is a war against the coronavirus, we are reminded that, in this war, we all fight together. It is said that “there are not enough weapons on the front lines” to denounce that the health staff is being exposed to the virus without adequate protective equipment. Is their deed not epic enough? Do we have to cover it up with a patina of warlike heroism so we can admire them more?
The members of the Military Emergency Unit who have set up a field hospital in Madrid’s Exhibition Centre know full well that this is not a war. Bombs do not fall from the sky while they are constructing it. The enemy is not political, it is not human, it can’t be killed with bullets. And yet they risk being infected, they know it, and they take care of themselves and of each other, washing their hands, protecting and covering their mouths. Why does all of this not seem heroic enough to us?
We are not soldiers, we are citizens. We are doctors, nurses, porters, carers, greengrocers. Caring neighbours. We are a supportive comment through the window and a 3D printer making respirators at home. We are the applause for supermarket cashiers every day at 8 p.m. None of this is anything but epic. Supporting each other as society, weaving a net that will not let us fall, is no small thing.
Most people are staying at home, but not because they think this is a war and they must obey a superior command. They are doing so because they know that this protects the groups most at risk by preventing the spread of the virus. In the face of a warlike framework, we propose a framework of care and solidarity. As part of a feminist and pacifist organization with more than one hundred years of history, we, the activists of WILPF, are sorry that in the communicative management to stop this disease, the language of care has been replaced by that of war.
We do not want to, by any means, downplay this crisis. On the contrary, we are well aware that the world is facing a moment that is exceptional, tremendously serious and particularly catastrophic in the most impoverished families. We are shouting at the world to tell everyone to wash their hands properly but there are people in some areas of Buenos Aires that have no access to clean water. We can’t help but think that in some regions of Latin America and of Africa, the virus will be irremediably devastating. But this is still not a war.
When the pacifist movement defines peace not only as an absence of war, it is referring to this type of situation. It is not decent to assume that those who have less will be more affected by this virus. That is why we stand up for social justice. That is why it was important not to reduce the number of beds in public hospitals ten years ago. This crisis shows that care sustains life and this care must therefore be collective. Perhaps it is time to reflect on the priorities in terms of public funding, and on the concept of security that we have.
We learned a few days ago that arms sales in the United States of America had increased to deal with the coronavirus. If we see the stockpiling of toilet paper during the first few days of this health crisis as something illogical, it is something far more dangerous to trigger an increase in arms sales. In the face of this individualism, we advocate the defence of common care and solidarity. This is the only way to overcome this pandemic.
There is no need for weapons, we need water and soap. There is no need for soldiers, but for health workers. There is no need for helmets but for medical masks. Respirators, not assault rifles.
We do not want to be soldiers, but citizens who are well aware of the fact that it is cooperation and the proper functioning of what is common that will save our lives. Peace is not only the absence of war. Peace is also the guarantee of a universal access to healthcare, social justice, everybody’s participation in designing the society we want, the advocacy for human rights and the recognition of care for what it is: the heroic task that keeps us all alive.