It has become commonplace among beleaguered leaders seeking to rally popular support to say that the COVID-19 pandemic is a “war,” albeit against an “invisible enemy.” For a number of obvious reasons, a pandemic is very different from a war, of course. We think of a pandemic as a natural disaster, whereas a war as man-made. Nevertheless, the two kinds of disaster have much in common. This paper considers one particular point of resemblance, namely the way the pandemic came as a surprise to most people, despite numerous warnings of the likelihood of such a disaster. The paper then explores the economic, social, political and geopolitical consequences of World War I and shows what they can teach us about the possible consequences of the pandemic.

Niall Ferguson, MA, D.Phil., is the Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a senior fellow of the Center for European Studies, Harvard. He is the author of fifteen books, most recently The Square and the Tower, and an award-making filmmaker, having won an international Emmy for his PBS series The Ascent of Money.

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