With so much going on in the U.S., including a pandemic and an upcoming presidential election, it can be easy to forget that just months ago many pundits predicted the country was on the verge of starting a third world war.
After President Donald Trump ordered an airstrike in Baghdad early January that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, predictions of an imminent world war flooded the internet. Tensions between Iran and the U.S. continued to escalate in the days following the Soleimani strike when Iran launched a retaliatory attack on a U.S. base in Iraq during a mission known as “Operation Martyr Soleimani.” Predictions of doom immediately followed. (RELATED: How The Liberal Media Spent The Last Week Shilling For Iran)
Shortly after Soleimani was killed, “World War III” began trending on Twitter, and CNN reported that the Selective Service’s website crashed. The New York Times reported on teenagers who “tearfully asked their parents” if they would be drafted into war, despite the fact that the U.S. has not instituted a draft since the Vietnam War.
“When Molly Patterson picked up her 17-year-old daughter from school in a suburb of Detroit on Friday, she was stunned when her daughter immediately asked whether her boyfriend would be drafted,” New York Times reporter Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs wrote. “The next morning, Ms. Patterson discovered that her 14-year-old son had been up until 3 a.m.; he was feeling stressed after reading about the possibility of war and texting his uncle about whether he could be sent to fight.”
Gloom and doom were the dominant themes of the coverage surrounding Soleimani’s death with headlines such as “Are we heading towards World War 3?” and “Donald Trump’s Order To Kill Iranian Leader Qasem Soleimani Feels Like World War 3.”
Memes about a potential global conflict exploded on social media during the first few weeks of 2020, and more than one think piece was written about the use of internet jokes as a coping mechanism.
“Memes have always been a vehicle for nonsensicality and nihilism; a ground invasion in Iran both does not make sense and could prove so calamitous that in the end there might really be nothing,” wrote Molly Roberts of The Washington Post.
“The question now is not whether the two countries are at war,” he wrote. “It’s what kind of war they’re about to wage — and how many people are going to die as a result.”
All of this happened just months ago. At the time, the president had just been impeached by the House of Representatives over a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which led to speculation in some corners that Trump ordered Soleimani’s killing to distract from his own scandal.
Trump has repeatedly criticized U.S. involvement in the Middle East and passed up opportunities to escalate conflict with Iran, despite his tough talk. The president reportedly stunned aides last summer after he went against their advice and called off a strike on Iran days after Iran shot down a U.S. drone in the Strait of Hormuz.
World War III still hasn’t happened. The U.S. still has not invaded Iran. Soleimani is dead after being responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans and the lifelong pain of thousands more. Iran retaliated with a strike that harmed but did not kill any U.S. soldiers. The conflict never escalated further, and the world has largely moved on.
This isn’t to say that concerns about increased tensions between the countries was invalid. The point of revisiting the left-leaning media’s failed World War III predictions is not to belittle reasonable and legitimate concerns about U.S. involvement overseas, but to point out the prevalence of hyperbolic and apocalyptic hot takes in the age of Trump.
The president has been falsely accused of calling the coronavirus a “hoax,” based on a misleading quote from one of his last campaign rallies earlier this year. Trump never called the coronavirus a hoax, but it might not be a stretch to suggest that some of his supporters tuned out warnings about the disease, chalking it up to more media and left-wing hysteria. (RELATED: George Soros Predicts Trump Will ‘Destroy Himself’)
The “we’re all gonna die” mentality has been a calling card for the left in the Trump era, with mass hysteria surrounding the repeal of Net Neutrality, tax cuts and the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, among other events. It’s certainly possible that some on the right chalked up the coronavirus as yet another example of unnecessary hysteria.
The message of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is that if you cry wolf too many times, people won’t believe you when there’s actually a wolf. Of course, the coronavirus did ultimately turn out to be a wolf, and has tragically claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Americans. (RELATED: Chris Wallace Says Tara Reade’s Case ‘A Lot Stronger’ Than Blasey Ford’s)
The irony is that the pandemic has upended the world in the same way many predicted a conflict between the U.S. and Iran would. Only four months ago, the U.S. was supposedly on the verge of World War III, but now Trump’s attack on Soleimani has largely faded from the public conscience and is unlikely to play a significant role in the upcoming election.
People have much bigger problems to worry about right now.