In the dark days of December 1940, almost six months to the day after the Battle of Dunkirk and the fall of France, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a very important speech.
To put things into perspective, it was still a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Roosevelt, who most likely knew then that the United States would eventually be brought into the war, was walking a tightrope between those in the United States who wanted to stay out of the war, and Great Britain’s (specifically Churchill’s) pleas for military assistance.
Even though Great Britain had won the air battle with Nazi Germany during the summer and fall of 1940 to prevent an invasion, they were still in a precarious position.
Great Britain stood alone against Germany and Italy, and was in the throes of the Battle of the Atlantic, Nazi Germany’s submarine campaign against commercial shipping heading to Great Britain, which very nearly starved Great Britain and won the war.
It was against this backdrop that Roosevelt made his “Arsenal of Democracy” speech on December 29, 1940. In his radio address Roosevelt promised to help Great Britain fight Nazi Germany by selling them military supplies while (for the time being) staying out of the actual fighting.
From this point on, the United States ramped up its production of military equipment, and less than a year later was fully at war after the December 7th 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
Recently, the US government approved a $1.9 trillion stimulus package for businesses and citizens in this country. While this is a necessary and much needed shot in the arm (pun intended) for the U.S. economy, a recent opinion piece published on MarketWatch’s website argues that for “just” $25 billion the U.S. could start a project that would ramp up vaccination of the entire world against COVID-19.
As reports come in that there is a huge disparity between vaccination rates of wealthy countries versus those of poorer countries, and as death, transmission and hospital rates decline in wealthier areas, the argument is that by investing in vaccine production for the entire world, the United States would actually be protecting its long-term economic interests and future.
The article’s author cites research from Public Citizen (a non-profit, progressive consumer rights advocacy group and think tank based in Washington, D.C.) that “a $25 billion investment in COVID-19 vaccine production by the U.S. government would produce enough vaccine for developing countries, potentially shaving years from the global pandemic. Public Citizen estimates that 8 billion doses of Moderna’s vaccine can be produced for just over $3 per dose.
To bolster production and supply the necessary 8 billion doses, it would take $1.9 billion to fund the necessary 25 production lines. Another $19 billion would pay for materials and labor, and $3 billion would compensate Moderna for making technology available to manufacturers in other countries. An additional $500 million would cover costs to staff and run a rapid-response federal program that provides technical assistance and facilitates technology transfer to manufacturers and works with the WHO’s technology hub.”
So, the question is, can and should the United States be an Arsenal of Hope for the world? Do we have an obligation to do something as grand as this? Can the United States, as it did in World War II help save the world from an insidious enemy?
What do you think?