The dialogue above comes from a scene in the original 1951 sci-fi movie The Day The Earth Stood Still (not the 2008 junk remake). Klaatu, an extraterrestrial visitor, arranges to demonstrate the power of his advanced civilization to humans by shutting down electricity all over the globe. One human, Professor Barnhardt, who knows of the demonstration, speaks with his secretary, Hilda, who anxiously looks out the office window at the stalled vehicles in the street. He is glad that when he asks her, she acknowledges being anxious because it means she has internalized the gravity of the situation. The demonstration succeeds. So too with COVID-19, I also am glad when others acknowledge that they are afraid because it connotes internalization of the threat. To that end, we must seek out reliable sources to inform, guide, and protect ourselves. We must face reality. That is what Prof. Barnhardt was telling us.
I watched French President Macron deliver an address to France a few days ago. He was the first head of state who spoke of the COVID-19 situation as a war. It is exactly that. People all over the world who have never experienced war are now coming to an understanding of the meaning of that term. I thought back to my year in Vietnam where I was virtually isolated most of the time with my two team colleagues in a small town. Our lives then were circumscribed, like all American’s lives will be in the near future, if they are not already: the inability to move freely, no place to go even if we could. In Vietnam, we had no TV, only a transistor radio. Electricity went out at dusk as hundreds illegally tapped power lines and forced the system down. We could not go to breakfast at the advisory compound until Vietnamese forces cleared the road of mines and snipers. We were constantly wary.
And so it is here, if, like Hilda, you are paying attention. You watch where you are going and what you are doing. You stay at your residence. You leave at your own risk and only for important errands. Here, you may get the corona virus, in Vietnam you might get shot. Both could carry a death sentence.
Locally, people are beginning to understand the enormity of what is upon us. Unfortunately, there are those who would ignore the rules put in place during this extraordinary period. As I drive around town, (the only thing I can do without coming into contact with others), I see signs of ignorance of present prohibitions (willful or not is impossible to say), youthful insouciance and intractable situations such as the indiscriminate mingling of the homeless. I hear from neighbors about parents still looking to arrange play dates for their children and of teens who think it is OK to leave town to go camping with a bunch of friends. I hear daycare centers are still open. I hear of gatherings of youth in the evenings to party at certain spots around town such as Clark’s Point. I read social media posts on NextDoor where there are questions and statements from which I infer a woeful ignorance of the pandemic. Are they just not paying attention?
Yes, Professor Barnhardt, I am frightened.