Captain Jim is in port, and has been for some time. Outside, the seas are choppy and the weather unpredictable.

A deadly virus, the new Corona virus (or COVID-19) has spread upon the earth, and threatens to take the lives of tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of human beings.

For that’s what we are. Beyond the color of our skin, our ethnicity or ancestral background, beyond the native language that we speak and the places that we grew up, we are all human beings. All 7.64 billion of us. It’s a big family–the human family.

According to the World Health Organization, as of March 13, 2020, there were over 132,000 cases of novel Carona virus across 110 countries and 11 territories. Over 4,000 have died from the virus.

It is tragic that citizens and leaders in Europe, the United States and other leading countries, could not see or did not care about the slaughter of over 500,000 human beings in Syria since 2011. The Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, with the active participation of Russian military forces under the direction of Vladimir Putin, and the active participation of Iranian forces and militias under their control, have committed untold war crimes and crimes against humanity, and continue to do so today.

These atrocities have produced a tide of Syrian refugees since 2015, who have landed not only in Turkey, but also in Europe itself. These atrocities in a near land, far-off only in the recent European imagination, have produced direct effects in European countries, particularly Germany which admitted a million of them in 2015.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s and Germany’s reception of these refugees struck me at the time as an act of immense historical atonement, for the war crimes and crimes against humanity which Germany itself had committed against other European peoples, including gypsies and Jews.

But perhaps only some future historian will some day see the German reception of Syrian refugees in this light. Since 2015, the refugee problem has produced great political turmoil within Germany, in particular, and seems to have led to a resurgence of right-wing extremist parties in a number of countries, including the National Front in France and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Germany, in particular.

I remember sitting on the subway in Stuttgart, Germany, in 2016, opposite a woman of perhaps 35-40 years of age,  who was wearing a very simple dress and no make-up. A Syrian refugee, I surmised. I will never forget the terror her eyes, which undoubtedly reflected the terrors she had seen.

She, too, was a human being.  One of the lucky ones who made it to a safe land. A half a million of her countrymen were not so fortunate.  Dead.  Victims of unspeakable crimes (e.g., bombing schools and ambulances and hospitals).

Perhaps the corona virus will open people’s eyes, so that they will be able to see Syrian refugees and other victims of countless atrocities, as human beings not so different from themselves.

Miracles can and do happen. Of course, it is too late for the 30,000 Argentines who were “disappeared” by a military junta in 1976-78 during the so-called “dirty war” in Argentina. I remember meeting some of the survivors, and drafting diplomatic notes to the foreign minister about their cases.

Now we have the victims of Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war in the Philippines, carried out with horrendous effect by extra-judicial executions. The United States has hardly raised its voice. Nonetheless, the U.S. seems to have lost the Philippines as an ally, now being replaced by China.

Without leadership, most of the world’s  leaders have been unable to take action to stop these and other atrocities, as the U.S. began to shed its mantle as leader of the Free World, first under Barack Obama, and now at an quickening pace under Donald Trump.

Yet, at the end of the day, it turns out that we are all human beings. Flesh and blood. Biological beings.

We are all trying to protect ourselves from the corona virus pandemic, which could easily cause hundreds of millions of deaths and an economic depression from which it could be hard for us all to recover.

So, there is a potential upside to the coronavirus pandemic. In theory, at least, it could function as a brutal wake-up call, reminding everyone that we are all connected with one another now, in the 21st century, a century like none that has gone before.

We all inhabit this fragile planet, which climate change is on the verge of changing forever. We are all threatened not only by climate change, but also by viruses, by nuclear and biological weapons, by the potential collapse of countries as a result of  cyber warfare, and by the capabilities of modern authoritarian and authoritarian-leaning states, which can monitor our every movement, listen to our every word, and which have the capability to kill any human being on the planet at any time.

We have a lot of ugly realities to wake up to.

But to end the current madness, perhaps the corona virus pandemic could help us start by enabling us to  see and understand that we are all human beings, that we all share a common humanity, that we are all dependent on one another, and that our very physical survival depends on our joint cooperation.

Perhaps the greatest hope may be that we may one day, hopefully soon, see the Syrian refugee on the train, the victims of Duterte’s war on drugs, the victims of the Dirty War in Argentina, and the Rohingya in Myanmar, as human beings with whom we share a common humanity, and without whose help and collaboration we ourselves and our children may not survive.

Captain Jim

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