In the summer of 2005, the president George W. Bush, after reading a book about the 1918 pandemic, created an action plan prepared for a pandemic scenario. The plan included funding for vaccine research, storage of essential supplies and a playbook and simulation exercises. It seems that he realised the importance of speed of action in a pandemic scenario:
“A pandemic is a lot like a forest fire,” Bush said at the time. “If caught early it might be extinguished with limited damage. If allowed to smolder, undetected, it can grow to an hell that can spread quickly beyond our ability to control it.”
“If we wait for a pandemic to appear,” he warned, “it will be too late to prepare. And one day many lives could be needlessly lost because we failed to act today.”
The plan was discontinued after 3 years (these things tend not to survive the exchange of seats in power) but it seems that some of the procedures designed at the time are being used today.
I found it curious that the then president’s initiative came after a summer reading. The knowledge hidden in books is infinite. Perhaps the erudite version of “tell me who you are with, I will tell you who you are” can be: “tell me what books you read, I will tell you who you are”. Or the more robust version I prefer: “tell me which books you don’t read, I’ll tell you who you are”.
It is fashionable in video calls that are now common on TV news, to have walls decorated with bookshelves as a background. But what our government’s actions tell us is that these shelves only hide the entire libraries of books that have been left unread.