Winning The Pandemic War: Four Lessons from WWII

A surreal COVID-19 cloud brings to mind how my father’s generation achieved much success after much struggle. As an eighteen-year-old from New York City, he joined the Navy and shipped off in 1943 to the Pacific. He was proud to be a Seabee, building landing strips and other infrastructure during World War II. He could not have known that in 1940, the United States was totally unprepared for the war. When the United States was suddenly attacked in 1941 at Pearl Harbor, the United States and the world were in great danger. Today, we are at a similar point with COVID-19 and future pandemics that can emerge at any time.

President Franklin Roosevelt’s response to the growing challenge of war was to reach out to Bill Knudsen, president of General Motors in 1940. Roosevelt tasked Knudsen to build what was later called the “Arsenal of Democracy.” This was a difficult decision for Roosevelt, as he had previously criticized capitalism, but he believed that American industry would deliver the results needed for success. Dr. Arthur Herman points to Knudsen’s success in his book, “Freedom’s Forge.” Herman says, “the U.S. war production was staggering; by 1944, the United States was producing eight aircraft carriers a month and 41 billion rounds of ammunition.”

Here are the lessons from WWII that apply to winning the pandemic war.

  1. Utilize the Best and The Brightest: President Roosevelt reached out to Bill Knudsen and American industry to win WWII. They created the Manhattan project which is what Operation Warp speed is modeled today. Today this means tapping into start-ups, venture capitalists, research efforts at schools such as Stanford and MIT. It means close coordination with the companies working on coronavirus treatments and vaccines such as Quest Diagnostics, Amgen, Pfizer, CalciMedica, CytoDyn, Dynavx, Gilead Sciences, GlaxoSmithKline, Heat Biologics, Inovio, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Novavax, Regeneron, Sanofi, Roche, Takeda, Vaxart, and Vir Biotechnology. To prevent rapidly growing pandemic, it means using the power of Google, Palantir, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook to develop the arsenal of data modeling, sensor delivering information into pandemic warning system for early detection to identify and minimize impact and to maximize containment.

2. Harness the Power of the Free Market to challenge industry to innovate, to reduce red tape, to accelerate getting to market, and to financially reward success.

3. Create a Brand-new Workforce to Match the Challenge: Create the next generation of health data modelers, vaccine manufacturing techniques, biotechnology innovation, health training and virus free packaging. Exploring the use of graphene with it’s antibacterial/antiviral properties in the use of medical sensors and testing.

4. Align Resources for Victory It was the focus and leadership from Bill Knudsen and Franklin Roosevelt who created a vision and planned the effort for victory.

The focus on unconditional victory today means the alignment of resources for coronavirus treatments and vaccines, the development of real-time rapid testing of populations, the creation of a pandemic warning system for early detection. It was the relentless innovation, creation and energy of millions that produced victory in WWII and it will deliver victory in The Pandemic War today.

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