Striking the flag, also referred to as striking the colors, is a universal indicator of surrender. Once a ship’s flag is lowered, it is considered a violation of international standards to continue to engage the surrendered ship in warfare. —U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command
Emily Oster, an economics professor at Brown University, caused a stir with an opinion piece in The Atlantic, the venerable magazine now owned by liberal mega-donor Laurene Powell Jobs through her Emerson Collective. In it, Oster called for a “pandemic amnesty” for those who encouraged ultimately pointless intrusions on life amid COVID-19.
This was seized upon by one of the worst actors of the crisis, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, with a simple Twitter statement: “I agree.” To those who endured the school closures in states institutionally loyal to Weingarten and her fellow teachers’ unionists, this is like seeing a warship’s ensign flying: a sign that the adversary, whatever the reality of the situation, does not believe itself defeated.
First, one must remember Weingarten has attempted to obscure her role in extended school closures, which are increasingly proven to have been utterly destructive to American students. Weingarten has affirmed that she and her union “wanted kids in school,” a claim that is “true” only in the most technical sense and contrary to the reality that teachers unions lobbied the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue the most restrictive “reopening” guidance possible. It is also inconsistent with the reality in states most loyal to the teachers union agenda, which saw the most extended closures long beyond the point at which a reasonable person could assume them to be necessary for public health.
Second, one looks with concern upon teachers unionists’ unwillingness to admit the costs of school closures. Consistent with her support for “amnesty,” Weingarten has attempted to deflect criticism of school closures by claiming that all students, in-person and remote alike, suffered learning loss. Unless those who discouraged school openings acknowledge the harm done by the policy, it remains “on the table” if the political winds shift again. And then there are those in Weingarten’s AFT who are more openly radical, like United Teachers Los Angeles president Cecily Mayart-Cruz, who told a journalist in 2021, “It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables” in response to questions about Los Angeles’s school closures. That does not sound like a leader prepared to accept responsibility for her atrocious public policy demands.
Finally, one must ask if the ultra-restrictionists to whom Oster would give amnesty have in fact struck their colors and ended hostile action. Bethany Mandel—the conservative writer and children’s book editor who was famously tarred as “grandma killer” for advocating the reopening the National Zoo in Washington, DC, among other things—notes,
Even now, at the end of 2022, children who are speech-delayed—thanks to being surrounded by masked caregivers during a critical developmental stage—are, in some areas, expected to do speech therapy while wearing a mask, with a masked therapist.
Like the crew of a stricken warship that “has not yet begun to fight,” the forces of pandemic theater have not demonstrated surrender. They are suing in courts to retain their powers to force masking and even proposing new federal pandemic powers, with blame only for the supposed “tsunami of misinformation” that led “rural and conservative areas” to doubt their diktats. (For her part Mandel was proved prescient. The Friends of the National Zoo, a private nonprofit that had supported programming at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo since 1958, dissolved its partnership with the Zoo “following the debilitating financial impact of COVID-19 on both organizations” in 2021.)
There cannot be amnesty; there cannot be ceasefire, in the COVID-19 response debate until the side that engaged in hostile actions ceases those actions and gives up. Oster is in no position to offer such surrender: By the standards of her professional managerial class, she was remarkably lenient, advocating for school reopenings before they became politically necessary. The side that followed the teachers unions’ demands must strike its flag and vow never to carry out hostile action again.
Until then, alas, the fight continues.