A police officer hands out masks and gloves in Detroit, April 2020
Brittany Greeson / The New York Times / Redux

Politicians all over the world have embraced war metaphors to describe the global pandemic. COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is the enemy. In the United States, President Donald Trump has called himself a “wartime president,” and in New York, the current epicenter of the pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo has referred to health-care workers as “troops,” even though many frontline health workers object to the characterization. With deaths growing at an exponential rate, and millions having lost jobs and livelihoods, the metaphor may seem to fit: disease, like war, calls for sacrifice and battle.

Language has consequences, however,

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