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Sep 20, 2021
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Karel Czapek: a play about a pandemic that anticipated the present day

The “new normal” was predicted 85 years ago

I think Karela Chapeka (1890-1938) one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. In his works, he anticipated the coming to power of Hitler, the Munich Agreement, World War II.

He anticipated much more. We see this already in his first known work – the sci-fi play “RUR”, written in 1920. The title of the play is an abbreviation, it means “Rossum Universal Robots”. The word “robot” was invented and put into circulation by Karel Čapek. In the novel War with the Salamanders (1936), he warned of the dangerous consequences of universal robotization.

The play “White Disease” (1936) should also be referred to the category of Czapek’s works of art whose predictions are beginning to come true. Interest in the play increased last year when WHO declared the “COVID-19 pandemic.” Today the word “pandemic” is firmly in use, although a year and a half ago it was outlandish.

And 85 years ago, in the play “White Disease”, the word “pandemic” was one of the main ones.

The plot of the work is built around a pandemic of an unknown disease and the search for a remedy for it amid the preparation of a major war in Europe. The disease is contagious, it came from China. A speck of white begins on the human body (hence the name – white disease; another name for Czapek is chengovaya disease). Very similar to leprosy. Medical science was powerless. The disease dooms people to a painful death, which occurs a few weeks after the appearance of the white spot. The whole role of official medicine is reduced to prescribing deodorants (to drive away the smell of a rotting body) and pain relievers (morphine). Another feature of the infection is that it affects people over 45 years old. She bypasses the younger ones.

The country in which the events take place was not named by the author, but the main characters of the play are:

Siegelius is a court councilor, professor, head of the famous clinic, he is entrusted with looking for ways to save people from white disease.

Dr. Galen is a simple physician who knows the secret of treating white disease and saves people in his medical practice. He is the central figure in the play. Galen is trying to use his secret so that the ruling circles refuse to prepare for a big war. He issues an ultimatum to the authorities and the rich: you will receive my secret only if you are able to agree on a general and final peace.

Baron Krug is one of the mighty of this world, the head of a very large enterprise that produces cannons, armored vehicles, aircraft and poison gas for use. He is one of those who are vitally interested in the war.

The Marshal is the chief military leader who has been preparing the country for war for two decades. He unleashes a war and expects a quick victory in it. War is his calling. Baron Krug is the right hand man of the Marshal.

There are also members of a certain family in the play (“father”, “mother”, “daughter” and “son”) who are talking about white disease. Through them, Chapek shows the public’s perception of the pandemic and the impending war.

Reading, listening or watching this work on stage, you begin to project some of the events and words of the heroes today, when the “pandemic” is being turned into a central event in personal and social life.

For a number of heroes, white disease is located on the periphery of their consciousness. For example, Marshal is absorbed in preparing for war, he is not interested in the fate of the dying in a peaceful life. Those under 45 think about the same. Someone is possessed by the spirit of patriotism; someone expects that his country will receive big “dividends” from a victorious war.

There are also those who welcome the pandemic. For example, here is a conversation between three patients in a clinic ward. One of them says: “There is only one reason: too many people have multiplied in the world, half of them must take a break and give room to others. That’s it. For example, you, a baker, make way for another baker. And I, the poor man, will make way for another poor man: let him suffer poverty and starve instead of me. That is why this pestilence attacked people. “

Approximately the same judgments are uttered by an unnamed daughter and son. They are young, and the pandemic quickly frees jobs for those over 45. The father and mother are outraged by this logic of children, but soon the father of the family receives an offer to become the chief accountant of Baron Krug’s corporation, and his attitude towards the pandemic changes. He says to his wife: “Chief accountant of the Krug concern! Millions will pass through my hands every day. A baby sucker couldn’t handle it. And they say that people over fifty are no longer needed … Who would have thought thirty years ago, when I entered Krueg, that I would reach the chief accountant! Nice career, mother! True, I deserve it; I worked honestly, tirelessly … The Baron himself calls me “colleague”, and not just “Mr. So-and-so,” like all these young people. “You will take over the accounting department for now, colleague.” – “Please, Mr. Baron.” So he told me! .. Yes! And you know, mother, five more people were aiming for this place. But, you see, they all died … And all of the white disease. How can I not think about it … You know what, I’ll tell you frankly, mother: thank God that this white disease has appeared! ”

In a sharply satirical form, Czapek shows the impotence of official medical science, which is represented by Professor Siegelius and his clinic. In a conversation with a journalist asking naive questions, Siegelius begins to lose his peace of mind. When the reporter asked how you can protect yourself from infection, the professor cries out: “What-oh-oh? Protect yourself? No way! Absolutely impossible! (Jumps up.) We’ll all die from her. Everyone over forty is doomed … You don’t care, in your stupid thirty! But we are in our mature years … Come here! Look, I have nothing on my face? Any white speck? What? Not yet? How many times a day I go to the mirror … Your readers are interested in how to protect themselves … Of course! This interests me too. (Sits down, clasps his head in his hands.) God, how powerless is science! ” The reporter asks Mr. Counselor to say a few encouraging words to the readers. Here is Siegelius’s answer: “Yes … Write in your newspaper that … you need to come to terms with this.”

This answer reminds me of the sermon of Klaus Schwab, who is in the book “COVID-19. The Great Reset “repeats in different ways: with the COVID-19 pandemic, a” new normality “has come, and you need to come to terms with it.

Suddenly, Dr. Galen appears in Professor Siegelius’s office. He invites the professor to test the method of treating white disease on the basis of the clinic. Galen has a history of treatment with very good results. Gradually, the professor’s skepticism gives way to interest. In the end, he agrees to provide Galen with a ward in his clinic, where the poorest patients are accommodated. The doctor immediately explains that he will reveal the secrets of his treatment only on condition that the powerful of this world give up the war. On the one hand, millions of people who contract white disease will be saved from death. On the other hand, the deaths of even more people on the fields of a great war will be prevented. Galen clarifies that until this condition is fulfilled, he will only treat the poor, because the rich have the opportunity to put pressure on the authorities and seek from it to stop the arms race and conclude a general peace. This is an ultimatum to all the rich.

Professor Siegelius gives his consent to clinical trials of Galen’s method, hoping that he will abandon his extremism, having received a good position, a lot of money. However, as events show, Dr. Galen is unshakable. He demands that the professor use his authority to put pressure on the authorities.

A confrontation begins between Professor Siegelius and the powers that be behind him (including Baron Krug), on the one hand, and Dr. Galen, on the other. Official medical science still can’t do anything. From a conversation between Baron Krug and the professor:

Baron Krug. So, under the current circumstances, nothing can be done against white disease?

Siegelius. You can, baron, thank God you can. Just in the last days I was lucky to achieve just brilliant success … Now we can already hope that we will soon be able to prevent the further spread of the disease … While this is still a strict secret, but, of course, not from you … disease. My idea, baron. Marshal himself promised me his assistance. This will be the greatest success in the fight against cheng disease … Every patient, everyone who is found to have a white spot, must be sent to a guarded camp.

Baron Krug. Yeah, and there they will all gradually die out?

Siegelius. Yes, but under medical supervision. Cheng’s disease is contagious, and every patient carries an infection. We must protect the rest from her … all of us, dear baron. Any sentimentality in this matter is criminal. Patients who try to escape from the camp will be shot. Every citizen over forty years old is subject to a monthly medical examination. The spread of cheng disease must be prevented by violent measures, there is no other way.

Baron Krug. You are right, dear Siegelius. It is a pity that you were not able to introduce this measure earlier.

Siegelius. Yes, it is a pity. We lost time because of silly fiddling with the Galen method, and the disease was still spreading … It is high time to remove these patients behind barbed wire, not allowing any exceptions.

Baron Krug (rising). Yes, most importantly, there are no exceptions. Thank you, Mr. Counselor.

I am not commenting on this snippet. The reader himself will draw a parallel with the present day. And the events of the play are becoming more and more dramatic. During the conversation between the professor and the baron, it turns out that there is a white spot on the body of the latter – Krug has become infected. The Baron is seized with fear. He comes to Dr. Galen, but he gives him his ultimatum. Krug, after long torment, goes to the Marshal, begging him to stop preparing for war. The Marshal is relentless, and the Baron commits suicide. After a while, Marshal becomes infected. He loses his peace of mind. He understands that the war he just started cannot be won (he has only a few weeks left to die). The Marshal is doing a tremendous inner work on himself. Not even out of fear of death, but out of conviction, he turns from a ruthless military leader into a pacifist. The Marshal summons Dr. Galen to agree to the latter’s ultimatum …

The play ends tragically: on the way to Marshal Galen is killed by an angry crowd of supporters of the war, who learned that the doctor does not support this war.

Karel Čapek put the dot on his work in December 1936. Less than three years were left before the outbreak of World War II. Today we see prototypes of both Marshal, and Baron Krug, and Professor Siegelius, and, of course, Dr. Galen. Only then did they prepare for a war, where planes, tanks, cannons and toxic substances were supposed to destroy people; the current war is based on the use of viruses, bacteria and dubious drugs. Today, the followers of Dr. Galen are ready to save humanity, while demanding an end to the barbaric war against humanity.

In the days of Karel Czapek, politicians said that only guns, tanks and airplanes could save mankind. Nowadays, they say that only vaccines will save humanity. Modern followers of Dr. Galen object: they say that this is a new weapon in a beautiful package. And the followers of Professor Siegelius, Baron Krug and Marshal can only wake up when new weapons begin to strike them. It wouldn’t be too late.

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