Ebola: a militarised virus


621st Contingency Response Wing

Koldobi Velasco

The Ebola death toll in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia has now exceeded 5,000, according to the head of the United Nations Mission for Emergency Ebola Response. Furthermore, according to a statement made by Elver in a press release, 'the countries which have been hardest hit by the epidemic, and which are still struggling to contain the virus, are now facing a fresh disaster, as experts predict that more than a million people in the region require food aid'.

As Ecologists in Action have previously argued, we understand this to be yet another consequence of the world order, imposed by the financial powers, in which the unequal and unjust distribution of resources impedes the development of many countries, whose consequent deprivation makes them hotbeds for disease and terrorism.

The response to the spread of Ebola on the African continent – to send in military troops – is an example of militarism - the ideology that accords the military a prominent place in the functioning of society, and extols military values and models of behaviour above civilian ones., It is an ideology that prizes authority, discipline, hierarchy, obedience, homogeneity of thought, and the glorification of force as a means to resolve conflict.

As Jordi Calvo puts it, 'in a crisis which began in March and which was declared by the World Health Organisation to be an international public health emergency in August, there is one sole NGO (MSF) in the region which has taken responsibility for 60% of the beds available for Ebola patients. To meet the demand, it has required four times the health resources currently available.' And they are being sent soldiers... Whose task, furthermore, will be construction. Which prompts us to ask: are these people – people whose are trained to kill – the right people to be in Africa responding to this emergency? What interests does the US have in the African continent? What is the US interest in the African continent?

Armies have a single function, which is to defend the interests of the rich and, as such, also to defend their transnational activities, providing, for example, logistical support for their plunderous exploitation of natural resources through extractive industries, which may be necessary for maintaining the capitalist model of development, but destroys human life and the life of the planet itself.  This is what is happening in Africa.

Governments, meanwhile, divert resources away from health, education, social services and housing – from everything, in other words, designed to meet basic human needs – and redirect them towards the military, whose remit includes 'humanitarian missions abroad', though these are no more than a mask for the true interests which armies defend.

This situation, in which resources intended for human security (in the true sense of the term) are stolen for military purposes, creates precarious social contexts which are much more vulnerable and likely to turn into situations that deteriorate. In this logic, a military response is then called for. A population, then, is attacked with structural violence, creating victims who are offered salvation by their very attackers – a win-win situation for the war economy, with the military playing the part of a pyromaniac fireman dressed in humanitarian clothing.

Sending a contingent of 3,000 soldiers, then, is no solution, but mere propaganda on the part of the US, which invests vast resources in its military and does not know how to resolve conflict and emergencies by any other means. It is not appropriate to send in troops to combat an epidemic: in the zones affected by the virus, they need staff and resources, they do not need arms and the armed forces.

Sending military troops - in Obama's words - to “eradicate Ebola and construct facilities in which to treat the sick”, generates greater economic cost and unsustainability, increases the militarisation of society and legitimises the armed forces, creating a culture in which violence is seen as a means to resolve conflict, and, politically, diverts attention away from the true causes of the realities that the military is brought in to deal with. The true causes are injustice and structural violence. The result is more misery, more repression, less transparency, more money for the economy of war, and the perpetuation of an unjust and violent order.

Antimilitarist and nonviolent organisations need to keep defending another way of doing politics, another paradigm of human security, and to keep responding to health emergencies as a priority for investing our internationalist solidarity, rather than as an opportunity for armed force, and continue to expose the complicity between extractivism and militarisation. We need to continue demanding that military bases in our countries be decommissioned, and promoting the nonviolent resolution of conflicts, in addition to putting an end to the situation of structural violence which is itself a world war.

Ebola is one more excuse to continue militarising Africa, and dispatching more troops to the continent's areas of high extractive activity, in order to defend the interests of the rich, at the cost of impoverishing and even killing their population. Militarisation is a virus even deadlier than Ebola. Let us inoculate ourselves from the lies and expose the truth.

Translation from the Spanish by Elisa Haf

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