Why US banned coronavirus survivors from joining military and revoked its policy later?

China Military Online
Chen Lufan
2020-06-04 17:18:21

By Cao Weiwei

It is reported in May that the US Department of Defense (DoD) issued a memo barring anyone confirmed with COVID-19 from enlisting. "During the medical history interview or examination, a history of COVID-19, confirmed by either a laboratory test or a clinician diagnosis, is permanently disqualifying," the memo reads. Pentagon spokesperson Jessica Maxwell confirmed as authentic the memo but refused to explain why COVID-19, in comparison with other diseases, would be a “veto”.

The COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to ravage the world, and the US has topped the world in the number of both confirmed cases and deaths, with outbreaks at multiple military bases and vessels. The Pentagon’s new rule on enlistment at such a moment mirrored how much the top military leaders are worried about the coronavirus.  

First of all, the highly infectious virus has seriously disrupted the US military’s strategic deployments and fluttered the top brass at Pentagon so much that the permanent ban on the enlisting of confirmed COVID-19 patients reflected America’s ambitions to maintain its hegemony.

Studies show that the MERS virus that broke out in the Middle East in 2012 had a basic reproduction number (R0) of 0.9, whereas COVID-19 has an R0 of higher than 3, making it one of the most infectious viruses in history. That’s why the struggle to stop this virus, a common enemy of humankind, from spreading across the world is called the “third world war”. The combat force losses and mental panic caused by the pandemic has put the US in a very passive situation as far as its global strategic deployment is concerned. Since America’s global hegemony is based on its powerful military strength, the new rule that bans COVID-19 patients, even recovered ones, from enlisting comes as no surprise as the US wants to maintain its military deterrence, superiority, and hegemony by avoiding the same situation in the future.  

Second, a deep and thorough study of the coronavirus may be an important reason that prompted the Pentagon to launch such a new enlistment rule. The DoD memo only barred COVID-19 patients even if they are cured, whereas applicants with other toxic diseases or non-chronic diseases can still be enlisted. The US military explained that they took the move because the knowledge about COVID-19 is very limited at the moment and there is no way to evaluate whether its damages to the human respiratory system are permanent, whether there is a possibility of relapse or other complications, and whether the vaccine will give everyone immunity.

Several universities and scientific research institutes in the US have made substantial breakthroughs in coronavirus study and vaccine development since February, and the results by both official and private institutions have been sent to the White House and the Pentagon promptly. It’s highly probable that the DoD’s rule to permanently disqualify COVID-19 patients from enlisting is based on some of the research results or suggestions, and the country has long had deep and detailed knowledge about the virus.

Third, the permanent ban on COVID-19 patients from enlisting is extremely discriminatory. Apart from the well-known racial discrimination in the US, the discrimination against patients of infectious diseases is prevalent in the US military too.

However, the new enlisting ban will make Pentagon’s already hard recruitment work even more difficult, although it has already lowered the bar to expand the scope of potential recruits.

To date, there have been a cumulative total of more than 1.8 million COVID-19 cases reported in US, averaging five confirmed cases per every 1,000 Americans. Vice Admiral Jerome Adams, the US Surgeon General, who oversees the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, warned that there higher infection rate among young Americans and the ban amid the pandemic will undoubtedly make it harder to find suitable recruits. Therefore, the DoD has recently adjusted the ban. Russian News Agency Sputnik reported that Matthew P. Donovan, US Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, said the Pentagon had revoked the draft that permanently disqualified COVID-19 survivors from joining the military.

Why did the Pentagon change its latest enlistment rule in just a month? Perhaps it is a choice of no choices given the current reality of its recruitment work since it’s impossible for America’s military deterrence to sustain without ample soldiers.


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