Fire In The House!


Imagine your neighbor’s house caught fire. How would you respond?

You would knock on the door to make sure everyone had gotten out okay, then you would step aside to let the firefighters do their thing. Right? Let the experts put out the fire.

If it was a big blaze you’d probably see more than just people from the local fire station. Maybe the fire marshal would show up. Always good to have experts in charge.

He or she wouldn’t pick up a hose though, just suggest how the resources could be best deployed to put out the fire. And go through the ashes of the building afterward to figure out what went wrong and if there was a way to better fight such fires.

If your house were to catch fire the next day, the procedure would be repeated. Like your neighbors, you might try and put it out yourself, but if it spread you would call for help.

You know the limits of your competence. If you are like me, you haven’t had much experience fighting fires. That’s why we have a fire department.

Once those firefighters are on hand, would you blame them if the fire got out of control? It isn’t as if they started it. You knew your neighbor’s house had just burned down – why weren’t you better prepared?

Did the firefighters not do their job properly next door? Did a spark from that house cause the fire in yours?

Maybe so, but perhaps it would be best to put out the fire in your house and ask those questions afterward. Don’t disconnect the firefighters’ hose from the hydrant while your house is still burning.

Which is what US president Donald Trump has done in announcing funding cuts to the World Health Organization in the midst of a global pandemic. That he would do so may have been a foregone conclusion, given that the US was already in arrears on its payments.

The WHO has been criticized for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. No surprise there. The WHO gets criticized for everything it does or does not do, it goes with the territory.

It is quite possible that valid criticisms can be made of the WHO’s response to COVID-19. Logic would dictate that study should be done once the emergency is over, once it is possible to gain some perspective. Pandemics are few enough and far enough apart (thankfully) that each one is a learning curve.

Trump’s move smacks of political opportunism. It’s easier to criticize a group like the WHO that can’t retaliate with a trade war. His bluster plays well with the electorate.

However, it seems from what I have read that Trump’s real villain here may be China, which allegedly under-reported statistics from Wuhan to the WHO. The WHO doesn’t have the resources on the ground to double check those statistics – maybe because it didn’t have the money thanks to the US not living up to its obligations. (There would be a question of  authority or sovereignty also.)

Certainly he doesn’t want to examine the American response to the pandemic. There were concerns raised at least as early as January, yet the US didn’t start taking the virus seriously until mid-March.

Given the US has a third of China’s population, and arguably a more advanced medical system, the number of deaths from COVID-19 is shocking. Somehow I doubt there will be any investigation as to why that is so.

It is politically safer to blame everything on the WHO rather than admit American officials made mistakes. Especially if some of those mistakes came from the top.

That’s one investigation we won’t see before November.



  1. Trump’s needs to divert fire from himself. What he blames China and the WHO did in not taking appropriate action, he did himself. He needs a scapegoat.

    It is always easy to find fault in hindsight. China slso dealing with an unknown, in the midst of chaos, doing what they thought was best. Had they not lock down Wuhan the day before the mass migration of Chinese New Year – with huge economic and social impact, I can’t imagine the consequence.

    I’m sure China and the WHO made mistakes, from having imperfect knowledge. Those who have perfect knowledge need to tell us all what to do to get out of this with the least damage.

    1. The problem is, no-one involved has perfect knowledge. Not even the person who thinks he does.

      1. Exactly. Like he who has no sin.

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