Lawmakers playing the pandemic blame game


Having spent a good many of my growing up years in South Dakota, it was always a pleasant surprise when I came across other “South Dakotans” when we lived in the East. The first day living in Frederick, Maryland, when I went to the local bank in the shopping area near our home, the teller who took my deposit was originally from South Dakota. We spent more time talking about our Midwestern pasts than about my banking.

The second event of note that day included an incident that was a little less pleasant. We were invited for dinner by the head of the religion department at the college where I had been hired as chaplain. We were eating in the backyard. Everything was enjoyable enough, until we were invaded by an insect the likes of which I’d never seen before. The department head casually remarked, “it must have escaped from Fort Detrick.”

Detrick was just down the street from where we lived. It was where the U.S. government was conducting research in biological warfare. It was common to hear conversations in the community about what might be happening there, often stated with nervous humor, often about escaped pathogens. Because of the secrecy surrounding the research and experimentation, the Fort had an aura of intrigue, of mystery and danger. There was an uneasy sense that something could escape that was not friendly to those of us who lived nearby.

For a couple of years, Detrick had a starling invasion. Hundreds of the birds would sit on the wires in and around the base. It was as if some mysterious force was drawing them there, or some divine being was trying to tell us something. My major source of information about the base became a college custodian, who also worked at Detrick. I learned of the testing on animals and humans, the potential pollution of water systems, the fast growing cancers in rats.

We now know that, “Many experiments that tested various biological agents on human subjects, referred to as Operation Whitecoat, were carried out at Fort Detrick, Maryland, in the 1950s. The human subjects originally consisted of volunteer enlisted men. However, after the enlisted men staged a sitdown strike to obtain more information about the dangers of the biological tests, Seventh-day Adventists (SDAs) who were conscientious objectors were recruited for the studies.”

Imagine my surprise that Detrick is back in the news now, at least in the Frederick paper. As the president and his supporters are emphasizing how the pandemic started in China, some in China are looking at Detrick for its origins. They claim it started in a lab at Detrick and was brought to the World Military Games last October by soldiers who trained near Fort Detrick. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said it is “completely ridiculous and it’s irresponsible” that someone from the Chinese government would make such a claim.

Every Republican seems to be jumping on the China blame bandwagon along with the president. Sen. Rounds went on Fox news to expound on the Chinese conspiracy theory, as well as sending his thoughts to South Dakota papers, including The Brookings Register.

(May 13). Rounds reports, “Evidence suggests the COVID-19 virus was released from a lab in China’s Wuhan province.” Then two sentences later Rounds says, “While there is no evidence to suggest the virus was manmade at this time …” What? Is there evidence or not?

Apparently the president, Sen. Rounds, and last but not least, Rep. Johnson, believe if they can convince the population to think the fault lies with others, they will be spared their accountability, their lack of preparation and incompetent handling of the pandemic in this country. Johnson ends a recent letter where he excoriates China for all manner of things, ending with “Most of all, we need to hold China accountable.” It’s the same tag line the senator used, “accountability.”

Blaming labs in China or the U.S. evades our responsibility and accountability as humans to treat all of the earth and it’s creatures with the respect deserved. 

The “evidence” will increasingly show infectious diseases will spread from animals to humans (zoonotic) because of our human sins (not treating the earth and other creatures with respect and reverence; thinking we are like Gods who can plunder the planet for our profit).

Personally, I prefer the idea of Sallie McFague in her book “Models of God.” Forget the patriarchal notion of God as a kingly ruler sitting on a throne in the heavens. 

The best and most likely conception of God’s body is this good earth we are living on. Perhaps if we understood the earth as God’s Body, we would treat it with a bit more respect.

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