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Consumer advocate, Ralph Nader, today urged Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, “to alert and reassure the American people that Department of Defense (DOD) has the experience, resources, and authority to dramatically bolster the recent, long-overdue expansion of civilian monies and actions” to combat COVID-19.

Mr. Nader elaborated his recommendations in a letter to Secretary Esper that contained little known details about DOD’s past successes and continuing engagements in domestic disasters. The full letter can be read below.

March 17, 2020

Secretary Mark Esper
Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Dear Secretary Esper,

As the spreading coronavirus envelops the nation and a serious domestic national insecurity crisis looms on the horizon, Department of Defense (DOD) must be prepared to play a major emergency role in expanding our public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As you know, the Department over time has been planning for infectious disease contingencies overseas where military personnel interact with the peoples of those less equipped lands. Presumably some serious work has been done regarding contagions affecting military bases and their surroundings in the U.S.

Moreover, having the largest operating budget in the federal government, with minimal Congressional oversight and maximum confidentiality, DOD has considerable discretion as to how billions of dollars can be applied to the unforeseen conditions stemming from the contemporary realities.[*]

For example, as detailed sympathetically in Michael Klare’s new book, All Hell Breaking Loose, on what DOD has been and is doing regarding climate disruption domestically and internationally, the rest of the federal government is considerably behind in knowhow, in action, and in the freedom to act on what they know (e.g. EPA and CDC). You have detailed studies on megastorms that have damaged military bases in the U.S. and the lessons to be learned for the future.

The purpose of this letter is to request that you alert and reassure the American people that DOD has experience, resources, and authority to dramatically bolster the recent, long-overdue expansion of civilian monies and actions in areas still uncharted by the President. For example, the Pentagon has the best experience and capability to quickly expand hospital bed capacity by erecting field hospitals to care for the tragic overflow of afflicted COVID-19 patients. Our ratio of hospital beds of 2.8 per 1000 people is far less than South Korea’s 12.3, China’s 4.3, and Italy’s 3.2.

I am confident that with such knowledgeable people as your pandemic prevention leader, Dr. Matt Hepburn, many life-saving initiatives can be put into action. Unlike other federal departments, DOD is not likely to be interfered with politically by the White House once the public receives the reassurance that comes with the Pentagon’s entry into slowing and mitigating this health disaster—after the loss of time and opportunity by this Administration. In addition, you can recall many experienced specialists in such emergencies who have retired recently to “captain the many ships” or been reassigned, such as Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, removed from the NSC by John Bolton.

For starters, monies diverted, under specious emergency orders, from the Pentagon budget to building the porous wall on the U.S. Mexican border need to be redirected to testing and protecting people there from this indiscriminate coronavirus.

There is another challenge to DOD on the horizon—drug shortages. Here the Department has unrivaled experience. During the war in Vietnam the second leading cause of hospitalization of U.S. soldiers was malaria. The drug companies declined DOD entreaties to hurry up developments of antimalarial drugs, which were more effective and worked faster than was on the market. Such medicines and vaccines were not deemed profitable enough. Undeterred, DOD established the Department’s own “drug firm” inside Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospitals to great success. For less than 10% of what the drug corporations would have charged, the military MDs and PhDs developed three of the four leading anti-malarial drugs in the world. These government specialists, who went to work every day to save lives, without ambitions of higher pay, bonuses, and stock options, published many articles in peer reviewed medical journals. Such activities may well have to be enlarged for the present necessities and likely future pandemics. Already, the Pentagon knows full well the current, serious dangers for the American people from the coddled U.S. drug companies outsourcing production of crucial pharmaceuticals to China and India for maximum profit and minimum supervisory regulation by the FDA.

There is much more for the public to know about what the DOD is doing, what the DOD has experienced, and what the DOD’s vast resources can contribute now to fill critical vacuums in readiness here at home regarding the coronavirus’ grave threats to health, safety, and economic wellbeing of the American people. Anxiety, dread, and fear are spreading alongside the looming reality. There is no more time to delay the entry of DOD. The legal authorities are enhanced by the declaration of national emergency last week. Additional prudent legal particulars to allow the DOD to act domestically should have no problem quickly getting through Congress.

May you engage all the right course of action to save American lives here at home with this supreme peacekeeping mission, so urgently needed.

Thank you for your considered response.

Ralph Nader

[*] It is advisable to bear in mind Senator Chuck Schumer’s caution: “As other steps are considered, the president must not overstep his authority or indulge his autocratic tendencies for purposes not truly related to this public health crisis.”