How mRNA became a vaccine game-changer

The molecule behind the Pfizer and Moderna jabs has turned the Covid tide. Can it revolutionise medicine?

David Crow 

      © Eleni Kalorkoti


Not for the first time, Katalin Kariko was trying to convince a sceptic to take her scientific discoveries seriously. 

It was 2004, and she had spent about 15 years investigating messenger RNA, the genetic material that acts as a kind of courier in the human body, transporting recipes from our DNA to the part of the cell that produces proteins.

After countless false starts and wrong turns, she had made a breakthrough and wanted to file a patent. 

But to do so she had to win over an intellectual property officer at the University of Pennsylvania, where she then worked as a researcher. 

Their meeting was going badly. 

“He was not very enthusiastic, he kept on asking, ‘What’s it good for?’” recalls Kariko. 

“I was just so disappointed that he wasn’t getting it.”

As she prepared to admit defeat, she noticed that the IP officer was going bald. 

“I said, ‘You know what? mRNA would be good for growing hair.’ 

All of a sudden, he perked up. ‘Really?’ he asked. 

And I said, ‘Yes, it could be,’ and he was very enthusiastic.” 

By the end of the meeting, he had agreed to file the patent.

At the time, it was a rare victory for Kariko, whose research on modified mRNA went on to pave the way for the coronavirus vaccines that have been developed at lightning speed by BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna.

Now lauded as one of the luminaries whose work allowed the world to push back the tide of the pandemic, for decades her research was dismissed as a sideshow by most of her scientific peers. 

On campus, she became known as the “mRNA hustler” for her tendency to push her molecules on to other scientists, most of whom just “put them in the freezer and forgot about them”.

From left: Katalin Kariko, Drew Weissman, Derrick Rossi. Kariko and Weissman’s breakthrough was to turn mRNA into a therapy that could be used for humans; Rossi modified their work and created Moderna with the backing of venture capitalist Noubar Afeyan © Getty Images


Kariko’s struggle to convince the doubtful IP officer is just one of several near misses that might have stopped the mRNA vaccines from ever being developed. 

Many other scientists ­experienced frustrating stumbles over the decades, while few private investors, vital to commercialising new technologies, were keen to back a new vaccine platform.

Now the pendulum has swung the other way. 

Though mRNA had been tested relatively little on humans before the pandemic, the vaccines that use its technology work extremely well — with efficacy rates of more than 90 per cent, considerably higher than rival inoculations.

They also appear, so far, to be safer than other vaccines; they have not been connected with the rare but serious blood clotting attributed to the adenovirus jabs made by Oxford/AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. 

And those early investors who did risk their money have been rewarded to the tune of billions.

Supporters of mRNA claim that Covid-19 vaccines are just the start. 

Now that the technology is proven, they say it can be deployed to tackle a multitude of illnesses, from cancer and cystic fibrosis to HIV and heart defects. 

Yet a sizeable group of scientific specialists think that it will be decades before the technology is fit for purpose — and that the risks of outright failure remain high. 

Despite its role against Covid-19, is mRNA a scientific step change, or a spectacular one-hit wonder?

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The existence of mRNA was first suggested in 1961 by two French scientists, Jacques Monod and François Jacob. 

Their hypothesis was prompted by the discovery a decade earlier of DNA, which contains our genetic code, spewing out signals that direct the body to produce the proteins we need to function healthily.

While groundbreaking, this discovery had resulted in a fresh conundrum. 

DNA lives tightly wound up in the nucleus, but proteins are made in the cytoplasm, a totally distinct cellular compartment. 

Monod and Jacob posited there had to be an intermediate molecule that somehow transmitted the information to the body’s protein-making factory — the “messenger” that is the “m” in mRNA.

© Eleni Kalorkoti


Their hypothesis should have been transformative. 

A long list of human illnesses can be accounted for by mutated DNA, including haemophilia, Parkinson’s and possibly Alzheimer’s. 

If scientists could interrupt the process of carrying faulty ­messages by inserting corrected copies of mRNA into the body, they could stop related diseases. 

A man-made biological courier would be able to intercept the incorrect set of genetic instructions and deliver the right copy instead. 

Yet, far from upending medical science, the discovery of mRNA led to a near silence that lasted for more than 40 years.

Kariko first started working on RNA molecules in the 1980s at the Szeged Biological Research Centre in her native Hungary. 

But in what was to become a constant refrain, she ran out of funding to pursue her work and started scouting around for a new academic institution to support her. 

By her own admission, she is a terrible salesperson. 

When explaining her work, her mind goes a million miles a minute. 

Most people cannot keep up.

In 1985, she secured a job at Temple University in Pennsylvania — but leaving Hungary, then still behind the Iron Curtain, was not straightforward. 

Currency controls imposed by the communist government made it effectively impossible to swap forints for dollars. 

So she and her husband sold their second-hand Lada car for $1,000, arranged an illegal currency swap with some foreign students, and flew to Philadelphia. 

“I wrapped the money up, inserted it into my two-year-old daughter’s teddy bear and sewed it back up,” says Kariko.

She embarked on an academic career in the US that was marked by insecurity.

Persistently on the brink of running out of funding, she recalls: “I was always at the mercy of somebody.” 

But Kariko never lost faith in the potential of mRNA as a molecule that might one day be turned into a human therapeutic — a drug or a vaccine that could save lives.

Her lab at the University of Pennsylvania, where she moved in 1989, was opposite a medical ward and its occupants preyed on her mind. 

“I told my colleague, we had to take our science to the patients. 

I pointed through the window — we could see them — and I said: ‘We have to take it there.’”

In 1997, Kariko started working with Drew Weissman, a fellow academic at the university who was studying dendritic cells, which play a critical role in the body’s immune system. 

The pair met while taking turns on a microfiche machine they used for reading scientific papers. “Kati and I used to fight over the machine,” says Weissman. 

“We kept talking and decided to try adding her mRNA to my cells. 

We were very surprised by the results.”

When he added the mRNA to his cells, Weissman found they elicited an inflammatory immune response, recognising the material as foreign and mounting an angry defence. 

This was perplexing because the human body is teeming with naturally produced mRNA; it was also bad news for Kariko, because it suggested it might be impossible to turn her molecules into a therapy for human ailments. 

The pair had alighted on a problem that helps explain why the field of mRNA research was a ­scientific backwater for decades.

“My guess is that people tried it and it just failed,” says Weissman. 

“It was too inflammatory, too difficult to work with, and they just gave up.” 

Yet he and Kariko kept going. 

From the outside, the pair made an unlikely duo. 

“I am the enthusiastic, noisy one, and he’s the quiet, thinking one,” says Kariko. 

“But we have different knowledge, and we educated each other.”

Despite their contrasts, they settled into a working rhythm that was helped by their night-owlish tendencies. 

“In the middle of the night, three o’clock, I’d send him something and he’d instantly respond,” recounts Kariko. 

“You felt that the other person was there, shoulder to shoulder.”

In 2005, after working together for eight years, the pair made a major breakthrough, without which the mRNA Covid-19 vaccines would not exist: they found that by making chemical modifications to mRNA they could then insert it into the dendritic cells without activating an immune response — in effect tricking cells into thinking the molecules had been made inside the body rather than a lab. 

This meant, in theory at least, that mRNA could be turned into a therapy for humans. 

“It was like a dream come true,” says Kariko. 

“‘Oh my God,’ I said. 

‘Now we can use it.’”

And yet progress remained elusive. 

Even after they published their findings, the stack of rejection letters from providers of scientific funding kept piling up. 

“We both knew there was enormous potential,” says Weissman. 

“The problem was, we couldn’t convince anybody else.”

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It was another scientist who helped turn their dream into reality. 

Derrick Rossi had never heard of Kariko and Weissman, who “were not at all well-known scientists”, he says. 

But in 2008, he was working as an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and trying to use mRNA to make stem cells — immature cells that have not yet developed into a specific type, for example a brain or muscle cell.

Rossi was inspired by Shinya Yamanaka, a Japanese scientist who had proved it was possible to turn any cell in the human body into an embryonic stem cell-like state by inserting four genes. 

Yamanaka’s discovery eventually won him the Nobel prize. 

But there was a problem: the genes he inserted ended up back in the DNA, a mutagenic event that increased a person’s chance of developing cancer.

     © Eleni Kalorkoti


Rossi’s idea was to replicate the Japanese scientist’s achievement using mRNA instead, to reprogramme human skin cells so they could act as though they were stem cells.

“Yamanaka’s experiment was beautiful, but the approach was not really useful for medical translation,” he says. 

“So we thought, ‘Let’s just eliminate the whole integration in the DNA business by using mRNA.’ 

mRNA does not integrate into the DNA. 

It doesn’t go back in and permanently, genetically alter anything.”

Rossi started by turning green fluorescent protein, which gives jellyfish their ethereal glow, into mRNA before applying it to cells in a dish. 

If the cells in the dish lit up, the experiment would be a success. 

Instead, he encountered the same stumbling block that had vexed Kariko and Weissman. 

“The cell was responding as though a virus was coming in, they were killing themselves,” he says.

As Rossi hunted for a solution, he happened upon Kariko and Weissman’s research paper from 2005, which had gone largely unnoticed in the wider scientific world. 

He was particularly intrigued by a tantalising paragraph buried at the end of the article, suggesting there was more to their work than they were letting on: “Insights gained from this study could . . . give future directions into the design of therapeutic RNAs.”

“We saw that paper and thought maybe we can take these damn mRNAs and get them to flip into the cell and not be recognised,” Rossi says. 

After making the chemical modifications to the mRNA that Kariko and Weissman had pioneered, he repeated the experiment using the fluorescent protein. 

This time the cells turned bright green.

So the torch passed from Kariko and Weissman to Rossi. 

His findings were published in 2010 to great acclaim but to turn his discovery into a medical reality, Rossi needed money — and lots of it. 

This meant creating a private company capable of raising cash from investors.

He soon found a believer in Bob Langer, a chemical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a colossus in the world of biotech. 

“[Rossi] showed me a slide deck and said he was interested in starting a company, and I thought, ‘Gee, that would be terrific,’” recalls Langer.

He subsequently introduced Rossi to Noubar Afeyan, a venture capitalist who had founded Flagship Pioneering in 2000 and who in 2010 would start up a company to commercialise the science. 

Its name was Moderna.

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Stéphane Bancel was attending the World ­Economic Forum in Davos in January last year when he concluded that the world was on the brink of the worst pandemic in more than 100 years. 

By that point, the existence of Covid-19 was well known and Moderna, the company where Bancel has been chief executive since 2011, was already working on a vaccine with the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Bancel had initially been of the view that Covid-19 was an outbreak that could be contained like Sars and Mers. 

But his mind was changed by two scientists who also happened to be at Davos — Jeremy Farrar of the Wellcome Trust and Richard Hatchett from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. 

The pair, members of what Bancel calls the “infectious diseases mafia”, spent days with the Moderna CEO sketching disaster scenarios on napkins, prompting him to realise the potential seriousness of the outbreak.

From left: Shinya Yamanaka, the scientist whose work on stem cells inspired Rossi’s modification of mRNA; the chief executive of BioNTech, Ugur Sahin; and Stéphane Bancel, who has raised billions of dollars for Moderna since becoming chief executive in 2011 © Getty Images


“I remember pulling out my iPad and asking, ‘Where is Wuhan?’” Bancel says. 

A search on Google Maps showed him just how big the city was, while Wikipedia informed him that it was a major exporter to the automotive industry. 

“And then I went on Google Flights and I saw there [had been] direct flights to all the capitals in Asia, to the West Coast cities in the US, to all the capitals in Europe. 

Everything fell into place and I thought, ‘Shit, this is already everywhere — this is going to be a pandemic like 1918.’”

That Moderna, a young company by biotech standards, was ready to develop a Covid-19 vaccine in record time when the pandemic struck is testament in part to the blistering speed at which it has grown during Bancel’s decade at the helm. 

When Afeyan approached him in early 2011 about becoming chief executive, Bancel, then working at a French diagnostic testing company, initially demurred.

“At first I told him he was crazy, that this will never work,” Bancel says, referring to the idea of running a company focused on mRNA. 

“But [then] I realised that, if it worked, it would change medicine for ever.”

Bancel, who speaks at lightning speed, has become known for his ability to raise billions of dollars of cash for Moderna, from both private and public sector sources. 

In 2018, the company completed the biggest initial public offering for a biotech on record, securing a valuation of $7.5bn. 

Other biotech executives have privately expressed disbelief that investors were willing to hand so much cash to a company working in what was — and to a large extent still is — an untested area of science.

Even today, Moderna has not secured full-blown regulatory approval for a single vaccine or drug: its Covid-19 jab is being given to humans under emergency-use authorisations that fall short of a proper stamp of approval. 

“The highest form of insult they would hurl at Stéphane was that he was a ‘great fundraiser’, which was damning by [faint] praise,” says Afeyan of the criticism directed at Bancel.

Yet had Moderna hired a chief executive who moved more cautiously and raised less money, the company might not, by the time of the Covid-19 outbreak, have already worked on mRNA vaccines for other infectious diseases such as Zika and ­Cytomegalovirus. 

And it almost certainly wouldn’t have broken ground on its factory in Massachusetts in July 2018.

Moderna acknowledges the debt it owes to Kariko and Weissman — “You can’t tell this story without them and their fundamental insights,” says Stephen Hoge, its president and Bancel’s de facto deputy. 

But the company insists it did more than simply commercialise their scientific discoveries; it decided, for example, to use modified, non-immunogenic mRNA inside a vaccine, and then to deliver the jab using lipid nanoparticles — little droplets of fat that stop our enzymes from destroying the genetic material.

The company tested its first such vaccine in humans in 2015, a second in 2016 and then a further nine jabs between 2016 and 2019. 

By the time the pandemic hit, it already knew that its technology worked. 

But Covid-19 was the first time it was used at scale.

Thanks in part to Moderna’s success, the potential of mRNA vaccines also captured the attention of Big Pharma. 

In 2018, Pfizer signed a partnership deal worth up to $425m with BioNTech, a German group. 

At the time, BioNTech was mostly focused on using mRNA to develop cancer drugs injected directly into tumours.

Kariko, who now works at BioNTech, recalls that chief executive Ugur Sahin felt a responsibility to research jabs for infectious diseases as well, but worried that they would be unprofitable. 

“He told me, in 2015, ‘Kati, it is a moral obligation for us to do infectious ­disease ­vaccines. 

Those are a money-sucker, but it is a moral obligation.’”



© Eleni Kalorkoti


In this next stage of the story of the Covid-19 mRNA vaccines, the torch passed to Moderna and BioNTech. 

But such vaccines still might not have happened were it not for the intervention of the US government: lots of promising discoveries made in academic labs do not end up being commercialised for human use because of a reluctance among investors to plough money into medical research that may result in expensive failure.

In Moderna’s case, the gap was filled in part by officials at a unit of the US Department of Defense known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or Darpa. 

Set up in 1958, in response to the launch a year earlier of Russia’s Sputnik 1, the first artificial earth satellite, Darpa has been credited with fostering some of the biggest technological advances in history, from the creation of the internet to the GPS.

In 2013, the US government issued a string of grants to private companies, including up to $25m for Moderna to work on an mRNA drug to combat Chikungunya — a potentially deadly virus spread by mosquitoes that affects millions of people mostly in Africa, Asia and the Indian subcontinent. 

That funding from Darpa, though tiny by comparison with the billions Bancel had raised in private funding, nudged the company into the field of infectious diseases, an unloved area among biotech investors who prefer to put money into more profitable endeavours.

“It’s not even clear that, without some pretty heavy pressuring, this activity — even at Moderna — would have been pursued versus other potential applications for mRNA that had a much clearer path to monetisation, such as cancer treatment,” says Regina Dugan, the former director of Darpa, who signed off on the grants.

In recent months, mRNA vaccines have shown that they are a formidable weapon in the battle against the pandemic. 

In Israel, which has fully vaccinated more than half of its population with the BioNTech/Pfizer jab, life has all but returned to normal, and things are heading that way in the US and UK. 

But many developing and even some richer countries have been unable to secure supplies.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration broke with US orthodoxy to back a waiver of Covid-19 patents during the pandemic, potentially opening the door for drugmakers across the world to copy the vaccine formulas pioneered by Pfizer, Moderna and others. 

The EU responded by saying that America’s decision to hoard vaccines was the real drag on the global inoculation race.

There is acrimony, too, among the researchers who made mRNA vaccines a reality. 

No story of scientific success would be complete without an element of discord, especially when a Nobel prize is almost certainly up for grabs, and many of them nurse grievances. 

Kariko feels that she was poorly treated by her employers at the University of Pennsylvania, and struggled to secure grants for her research.

Sahin, the BioNTech chief executive, worries that focusing on Kariko crowds out the other scientists who worked on the Covid-19 vaccines and bristles at the idea of a neat narrative that begins with her work (even though she now works for him). 

“I think this is now [getting] more and more simplified in the whole storytelling,” he says. 

Weissman, who still works at the University of Pennsylvania, sees it differently: “Everything that Moderna does uses our patent, our technology. 

BioNTech has other programmes that don’t use it, but the vaccine they made uses our technology.”

There is also bad blood between Rossi and Moderna, the company he helped found in 2010 but left roughly three years later. 

Several people briefed on the split say that Rossi wanted Moderna to dedicate more time to his stem-cell discovery and was eventually shunted aside when it zeroed in on drugs and vaccines instead. 

Rossi dismisses the idea that he was too focused on stem cells, pointing out that he was talking about the potential for mRNA to be used as a backbone for human therapeutics as early as 2010. 

“It’s offensive, but it’s typical of these business pricks to basically say, ‘That was our idea.’”

But by far the biggest disagreement in the wider biotech community is about whether the mRNA Covid-19 will represent a step change in medical development. 

Moderna’s market capitalisation, which has soared by more than 600 per cent since Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic, now stands at $63bn. 

That is a staggering valuation for a company that has no fully approved products and which generated $803m in revenue last year.

By contrast, Biogen, a company founded in 1978 that makes drugs for multiple sclerosis, and which hopes to secure approval for the first medicine that can slow Alzheimer’s, generated $13.4bn of revenue last year: its market capitalisation is just $40bn.

Implicit in Moderna’s valuation is a belief among investors that not only will it upend the vaccines industry by making mRNA the crux of many more inoculations, but that its experimental drugs for illnesses such as heart defects and cancer will also end up working too.

One biotech investor, who asks to keep their criticism off the record, describes the company as the “Tesla of biotech”, referring to the electric car company that is worth more than several traditional automakers combined. 

“I think that investors underappreciate how much time it’s going to take to succeed in other areas and the risk, the probability, that it is not going to succeed.”

Another healthcare investor, who is betting that Moderna’s share price will eventually fall, agrees. 

He worries that the company will struggle to raise the price of its vaccine, which is roughly $15 per shot, when the pandemic ends and companies can start charging so-called endemic prices. 

“Wall Street is pretty brutal,” he says. 

“It’s going to be an uphill battle.”

Bancel insists the company has huge potential to reshape pharmaceuticals. 

The success of the mRNA Covid-19 vaccines — with their extremely high efficacy rates — and the economic toll of the pandemic are proof that inoculations will become a bigger industry, he says, predicting that this market, worth about $35bn today, could almost treble in size.

He also foresees an eventual “cancer and cardiology wave” for the company, which has a large but early-stage pipeline of drugs for oncology and heart defects. 

He points to a recent, small trial of one of its cancer drugs, which showed that it helped patients who were not responding to an approved immunotherapy drug.

Yet in reality, despite Bancel’s enthusiasm, there is very little proof that mRNA could be as transformative for other areas of medicine as it has been for vaccines. 

In March, Translate Bio, a company researching mRNA drugs for cystic fibrosis — seen as one of the illnesses that might best be tackled by the approach — reported disappointing results from a trial of its experimental medicine, which did not improve patients’ lung function.

Brad Loncar, a biotech investor who runs a cancer-focused fund, says he has seen scant evidence that mRNA will work for cancer either. 

“We’re very early, but the cancer data that we’ve seen so far from all the companies has been really disappointing,” he says. 

“The verdict is still out on all these other diseases, they are going to take years and years to be proven. 

And there is no guarantee that it’s going to succeed.”

Yet the undeniable accomplishment of the Covid-19 mRNA vaccines means the field is unlikely to enter another dark age. 

Hoge, Moderna’s president, says the success of the jabs gave the industry the “home run” that it had always craved. 

“What happens with the pandemic is that all of a sudden, a year forward, everyone believes in [mRNA] for all the right reasons.” 

It will happen by fits and starts, but scientists like Kariko will no longer have to work in the shadows.

“Of course there are a lot of things that have to be done but the model is there and it can be done,” she insists during one of our telephone interviews. 

“People would probably tell me to put down the phone right now, and to go and read more and work on it. 

Because people are suffering.”


David Crow is the FT’s US news editor

The pandemic

Ten million reasons to vaccinate the world

Our model reveals the true course of the pandemic. Here is what to do next



This week we publish our estimate of the true death toll from covid-19. 

It tells the real story of the pandemic. 

But it also contains an urgent warning. 

Unless vaccine supplies reach poorer countries, the tragic scenes now unfolding in India risk being repeated elsewhere. 

Millions more will die.

Using known data on 121 variables, from recorded deaths to demography, we have built a pattern of correlations that lets us fill in gaps where numbers are lacking. 

Our model suggests that covid-19 has already claimed 7.1m-12.7m lives. 

Our central estimate is that 10m people have died who would otherwise be living. 

This tally of “excess deaths” is over three times the official count, which nevertheless is the basis for most statistics on the disease, including fatality rates and cross-country comparisons.

The most important insight from our work is that covid-19 has been harder on the poor than anyone knew. 

Official figures suggest that the pandemic has struck in waves, and that the United States and Europe have been hit hard. 

Although South America has been ravaged, the rest of the developing world seemed to get off lightly.

Our modelling tells another story. 

When you count all the bodies, you see that the pandemic has spread remorselessly from the rich, connected world to poorer, more isolated places. 

As it has done so, the global daily death rate has climbed steeply.

Death rates have been very high in some rich countries, but the overwhelming majority of the 6.7m or so deaths that nobody counted were in poor and middle-income ones. 

In Romania and Iran excess deaths are more than double the number officially put down to covid-19. 

In Egypt they are 13 times as big. 

In America the difference is 7.1%.


India, where about 20,000 are dying every day, is not an outlier. 

Our figures suggest that, in terms of deaths as a share of population, Peru’s pandemic has been 2.5 times worse than India’s. 

The disease is working its way through Nepal and Pakistan. 

Infectious variants spread faster and, because of the tyranny of exponential growth, overwhelm health-care systems and fill mortuaries even if the virus is no more lethal.

Ultimately the way to stop this is vaccination. 

As an example of collaboration and pioneering science, covid-19 vaccines rank with the Apollo space programme. 

Within just a year of the virus being discovered, people could be protected from severe disease and death. 

Hundreds of millions of them have benefited.

However, in the short run vaccines will fuel the divide between rich and poor. 

Soon, the only people to die from covid-19 in rich countries will be exceptionally frail or exceptionally unlucky, as well as those who have spurned the chance to be vaccinated. 

In poorer countries, by contrast, most people will have no choice. 

They will remain unprotected for many months or years.

The world cannot rest while people perish for want of a jab costing as little as $4 for a two-dose course. 

It is hard to think of a better use of resources than vaccination. 

Economists’ central estimate for the direct value of a course is $2,900—if you include factors like long covid and the effect of impaired education, the total is much bigger. 

The benefit from an extra 1bn doses supplied by July would be worth hundreds of billions of dollars. 

Less circulating virus means less mutation, and so a lower chance of a new variant that reinfects the vaccinated.

Supplies of vaccines are already growing. 

By the end of April, according to Airfinity, an analytics firm, vaccine-makers produced 1.7bn doses, 700m more than the end of March and ten times more than January. 

Before the pandemic, annual global vaccine capacity was roughly 3.5bn doses. 

The latest estimates are that total output in 2021 will be almost 11bn. 

Some in the industry predict a global surplus in 2022.

And yet the world is right to strive to get more doses in more arms sooner. 

Hence President Joe Biden has proposed waiving intellectual-property claims on covid-19 vaccines. 

Many experts argue that, because some manufacturing capacity is going begging, millions more doses might become available if patent-owners shared their secrets, including in countries that today are at the back of the queue. 

World-trade rules allow for a waiver. 

When invoke them if not in the throes of a pandemic?

We believe that Mr Biden is wrong. 

A waiver may signal that his administration cares about the world, but it is at best an empty gesture and at worst a cynical one.

A waiver will do nothing to fill the urgent shortfall of doses in 2021. 

The head of the World Trade Organisation, the forum where it will be thrashed out, warns there may be no vote until December. 

Technology transfer would take six months or so to complete even if it started today. 

With the new mrna vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna, it may take longer. 

Supposing the tech transfer was faster than that, experienced vaccine-makers would be unavailable for hire and makers could not obtain inputs from suppliers whose order books are already bursting. 

Pfizer’s vaccine requires 280 inputs from suppliers in 19 countries. 

No firm can recreate that in a hurry.

In any case, vaccine-makers do not appear to be hoarding their technology—otherwise output would not be increasing so fast. 

They have struck 214 technology-transfer agreements, an unprecedented number. 

They are not price-gouging: money is not the constraint on vaccination. 

Poor countries are not being priced out of the market: their vaccines are coming through covax, a global distribution scheme funded by donors.

In the longer term, the effect of a waiver is unpredictable. 

Perhaps it will indeed lead to technology being transferred to poor countries; more likely, though, it will cause harm by disrupting supply chains, wasting resources and, ultimately, deterring innovation. 

Whatever the case, if vaccines are nearing a surplus in 2022, the cavalry will arrive too late.

A needle in time

If Mr Biden really wants to make a difference, he can donate vaccine right now through covax. 

Rich countries over-ordered because they did not know which vaccines would work. 

Britain has ordered more than nine doses for each adult, Canada more than 13. 

These will be urgently needed elsewhere. 

It is wrong to put teenagers, who have a minuscule risk of dying from covid-19, before the elderly and health-care workers in poor countries. 

The rich world should not stockpile boosters to cover the population many times over on the off-chance that they may be needed. 

In the next six months, this could yield billions of doses of vaccine.

Countries can also improve supply chains. 

The Serum Institute, an Indian vaccine-maker, has struggled to get parts such as filters from America because exports were gummed up by the Defence Production Act (dpa), which puts suppliers on a war-footing. 

Mr Biden authorised a one-off release, but he should be focusing the dpa on supplying the world instead. 

And better use needs to be made of finished vaccine. 

In some poor countries, vaccine languishes unused because of hesitancy and chaotic organisation. 

It makes sense to prioritise getting one shot into every vulnerable arm, before setting about the second.

Our model is not predictive. 

However it does suggest that some parts of the world are particularly vulnerable—one example is South-East Asia, home to over 650m people, which has so far been spared mass fatalities for no obvious reason. 

Covid-19 has not yet run its course. 

But vaccines have created the chance to save millions of lives. 

The world must not squander it. 

Putin’s next move

Russia’s president menaces his people and neighbours

The West should raise the cost of his malign behaviour


One man commands a police state. 

The other is locked up and close to death. 

Nonetheless, Vladimir Putin fears his prisoner. 

Alexei Navalny may be physically weak: after most of a month on hunger strike, he was moved to a prison hospital on April 19th, perhaps for force-feeding. 

Yet he is still Russia’s most effective opposition leader. 

His jocular, matter-of-fact videos resonate with voters. 

One, a guided tour of a gaudy palace that Mr Putin denies owning, has been viewed more than 116m times. 

Mr Navalny has built a movement by mocking the Kremlin’s lies, and challenges Mr Putin’s party at elections. 

That is why he was poisoned last year, and then jailed on bogus charges. 

It is why his organisation has been branded “extremist” and is being ruthlessly shut down. 

It may also explain why Mr Putin, eager to change the subject and fire up patriotic Russian supporters, is once again menacing the neighbours.

In recent weeks he has massed more than 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine, a country he has already partly dismembered by grabbing Crimea and backing pro-Russian secessionists in the Donbas, an eastern region. 

Meanwhile, his navy has threatened to block the Kerch strait, cutting off parts of Ukraine from the Black Sea. 

On April 22nd, however, his defence minister announced that Russian forces would be pulled back again from the Ukrainian border, having completed their "exercises". 

As The Economist went to press, it was uncertain how many troops would actually be withdrawn. 

In similar circumstances in the past, Russia has often left significant forces behind. 

Nor was it clear what point Mr Putin was trying to make with this colossal show of force. 

His goal may be to intimidate Ukraine's leaders into making concessions, such as formal autonomy for the Donbas. Or he may be preparing for future aggression.

His state-of-the-nation speech on April 21st offered only the vaguest of clues. 

Mr Putin promised handouts for the masses and pain for his enemies. 

He repeated a conspiracy theory about the West trying to assassinate Alexander Lukashenko, the despot of next-door Belarus. 

He vowed that those who threaten Russia’s security “will regret their actions more than anything they’ve regretted in a long time”. 

As he spoke, his goons rounded up dissidents.

Mr Putin is weaker than he looks, but that makes him dangerous. 

His previous Ukrainian adventures came when the Russian economy was in trouble and his polls needed a boost. 

Today, his personal polls are sliding and barely a quarter of Russians support his party. 

Protests against Mr Navalny’s arrest in January were the largest in a decade. 

And events in Belarus worry Mr Putin: Mr Lukashenko has been so weakened by protests that he now depends on Russian support to stay in power. 

If something similar were to happen to Mr Putin, he has no one to turn to. 

Facing protests at home, he may lash out abroad, in Ukraine, Belarus or elsewhere.

All this poses a challenge for President Joe Biden and his allies. 

When deciding how to deter Mr Putin, the West should be realistic. 

No one wants war with a nuclear power, and sanctions are often ineffective. 

They rarely work if they are unilateral, or their aim is too ambitious. 

Even the strictest embargoes have failed to dislodge lesser tyrants in Cuba and Venezuela. 

Russia has fashioned a siege economy, inward-looking and stagnant but hard for outsiders to throttle. 

Talk of an embargo on Russian oil and gas exports, meanwhile, is naive. 

The world must one day find alternatives to fossil fuels, but suddenly shutting off a supplier as big as Saudi Arabia would cause global economic tremors—so it won’t happen.

The aim of sanctions should be modest: not regime change, but to raise the cost to Mr Putin of aggression abroad and oppression at home. 

Mr Biden has made a good start, imposing a raft of financial sanctions for hacking and election-meddling, which can be tightened if Mr Putin transgresses more. 

Harsher curbs on Western financial institutions dealing with Kremlin-linked firms would add to the pain. 

Mr Biden is also trying to cajole allies to present a united front, as they have so far failed to do. 

Germany should kill Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline intended to bypass and squeeze Ukraine. 

Britain should crack down more on money-laundering. 

Individuals implicated in abuses should have their assets frozen and be barred from entering the West.

Nato should step up. 

It must strike a balance: reassuring Russia’s neighbours without feeding the Kremlin’s paranoia. 

Some Russians imagine that nato might invade to help Ukraine recapture its lost turf. 

Mr Biden should make clear that it won’t. 

But nato should beef up its presence in the Black Sea, and its members should continue to supply Ukraine with defensive weapons.

Russia is far less important than China, either to the world economy or to climate talks. 

But it still matters a great deal. 

It is the single most prolific stoker of instability on Europe’s borders, and arguably the most energetic troublemaker in rich democracies, funding extremist parties, spreading disinformation and discord. 

How the West deals with it also sets a precedent. 

China’s leaders are certainly watching. 

If Mr Biden lets Russia roll over Ukraine, they may assume that Taiwan is fair game, too.

Unlike his predecessor, Mr Biden sees Mr Putin clearly. 

Rather than embracing him, he has called him a killer. 

But he also keeps communications open. 

He has suggested a summit. 

That would be a mistake if it merely boosts Mr Putin’s prestige, but not if it de-escalates military tensions and signals resolve. 

The diplomatic spadework that precedes it will be crucial. 

Fortunately, Mr Biden has hired plenty of Russia experts, and actually listens to them.

In the end it will not be outsiders who decide Russia’s future. 

The long, hard task of creating an alternative to Mr Putin’s misrule can be performed only by Russians themselves. 

Meanwhile, democracies should lend Russian democrats their moral support, just as they did in the Soviet era. 

Mr Biden should press hard for Mr Navalny to be released, immediately and unharmed. 

The world needs dissidents like him to hold the Kremlin to account. 

Without such checks, Russia will remain a thuggish kleptocracy, and its neighbours will never be safe.

Colombia: A Canary in a Coal Mine?

Latin American governments can no longer ignore the problems they had pre-pandemic.

By: Allison Fedirka


Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has understandably commanded the world’s attention. 

So it was sometimes easy to forget that every country on every continent had its fair share of social, political and economic problems, but now that the pandemic is becoming more manageable for many (though, tragically, not all), countries can no longer ignore them. 

Not only did they not go away, in many cases the pandemic and its associated countermeasures made their problems worse. 

Social unrest has been particularly hard to mollify; doing so typically requires either financial measures a government cannot currently afford or structural changes it cannot hope to pass quickly.

Take Colombia. 

The recent wave of protests there is in some ways an extension of those that were essentially put on hold when the pandemic hit. 

Among the grievances were communal violence, the peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group, corruption, poverty and so on. 

Not being able to gather in public, demonstrators weren’t able to demonstrate, creating a false sense of security for the government, even as it failed to address the protesters’ concerns.

As far as protest culture goes, Latin America is something of a connoisseur. 

Public demonstration is a trusted tool for citizens and politicians alike to air their views, issue demands and pressure their audience into negotiation. 

The demands of protesters can vary greatly, from getting a bonus welfare payment to negotiating better wages to serious or frivolous social causes. 

Yet the effective protests that the government can address tend to share a common element: a clear group of participants with a clear demand that can be met through a specific course of action. 

What makes the latest protests in Colombia distinct is that the protesters have used the government’s latest tax proposal as a springboard to take issue with socio-economic structures of the country more broadly. 

In that sense, the government is having to do more than recover from a pandemic; it’s having to reassess essential economic and political relationships with the society it governs.

What Happened

In the final weeks of 2020, Bogota confirmed plans to introduce major tax reforms in 2021 to stabilize and ignite growth in the economy. 

One of the main goals of the reforms was to reduce fiscal gaps and ensure the country’s capacity to service debt. 

It satisfied the government’s need to maintain investor confidence in markets and ensure economic stability. 

(Credit rating agencies and other financial institutions had made statements saying Colombia’s investment grade status could be at risk without fiscal reform.) 

Foreign direct investment, after all, plays an important role in the Colombian economy. 

The middle and working classes, however, felt differently. 

They believed the higher taxes and reduced discounts created a greater burden on middle-class and poorer citizens and not enough burden on the wealthy. 

Nationwide protests erupted April 28 and have continued ever since.

 


But the protests were never really about the tax reforms. 

If they were, protesters may have gone home when the government withdrew the bill on Monday. 

(It’s points like this that protests in Latin America tend to calm down.) 

But they didn’t. 

They continued to rally, compelling Bogota to dispatch security forces to maintain order in urban areas and eliminate blockades to allow for the free passage of cargo, and persuading President Ivan Duque to invite representatives from the opposition, private business and local governments to talk about the reforms and reshape them going forward. 

But complaints from across the political spectrum came forward. 

Some were concrete, others abstract, but there was no designated leader and no organizing body to unify the demands. 

It’s become nearly impossible for the government to resolve the protests effectively or quickly.

The dominant rhetoric around the demonstrations also hints at something deeper. 

Naturally, people from various parties have blamed different groups for infiltrating the protests and instigating violence. 

Such accusations are common practice in Latin America – and sometimes they’re even true. 

More telling, though, are two comments by leading politicians from opposing sides of the aisle. 

On the conservative end, former President Alvaro Uribe called on people to resist the “dissipated molecular revolution,” a term adopted by conservative academics in the region to explain dynamics observed in Latin American protests. 

It makes two main points: First, that political groups gradually change how individuals think and lead them to reject existing shared societal values. 

Second, protests bring the state to a point of extreme disorder such that the government has an excuse for a strong security response.

The voice on the other end of the political spectrum is opposition leader Gustavo Petro, who said that the protests mark the beginning of the end of neoliberalism in Colombia. 

The next phase, he says, will be marked by repression.

Both comments suggest that a large segment of the population now questions the neoliberal economic model in place, and new ideas are emerging. The significance of this claim should not be overlooked. A state’s ideas about the domestic economy are intimately linked to its politics, and thus its foreign and trade policies.

Hard Road Ahead

This is hardly Colombia’s only deep-rooted issue. 

The country’s politics and security services are still adjusting to the 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). 

The war with the FARC lasted more than 50 years and left countless scars on society, and a piece of paper alone doesn’t translate into political and social harmony. 

In addition, the government is still in talks with the National Liberation Army, and it’s still combating dissident FARC groups that remain active in the black market and drug trade.

There’s also the decadelong deterioration of the Venezuelan state and economy, which acts as a drain on the Colombian government’s attention and resources and has sucked the region into the U.S.-Russian power struggle. 

Finally, Bogota must prepare its economy, which has benefited greatly from the production and export of hydrocarbons, for a world of moderate oil prices and transition toward renewables. 

For better or worse, addressing these issues requires a break with the status quo.

A restructuring of the government’s relationship with society doesn’t have to be catastrophic. 

Take Chile, which started a similar process in fall 2019. 

A decision to raise metro fares sparked mass violent protests across the country, followed by a series of government concessions and reforms. 

The process included major issues, like restructuring military funding, and culminated in the initiation of a process to change the country’s Pinochet-era constitution. 

Chile still has social and economic issues to address, but unlike Venezuela, its history illuminates a path for remaking the social contract without complete collapse or complete rejection of current models. 

It will take time before it’s clear whether Colombia can do the same.

The End of Israel’s Illusion

The prevailing consensus among Israelis that Palestinian nationalism had been defeated – and thus that a political solution to the conflict was no longer necessary – lies in tatters. And even as the violence escalates, it has become clear to both sides that the era of glorious wars and victories is over.

Shlomo Ben-Ami



TEL AVIV – The sudden eruption of war outside and inside Israel’s borders has shocked a complacent nation. 

Throughout Binyamin Netanyahu’s 12-year premiership, the Palestinian problem was buried and forgotten. 

The recent Abraham Accords, establishing diplomatic relations with four Arab states, seemed to weaken the Palestinian cause further. 

Now it has re-emerged with a vengeance.

Wars can be triggered by an isolated incident, but their cause is always deeper. 

In this case, the trigger, the eviction of Palestinians in favor of Israeli nationalists in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, touched all the sensitive nerves of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, its humiliating control of access to the Al-Aqsa mosque, the ever-present memory of the 1948 Nakba (the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians when Israel was founded), and the grievances of Israel’s Arab minority are all fueling the current flare-up.

It may be true that the contested real estate in Sheikh Jarrah did belong to a Jewish family before 1948. 

But Palestinians saw the incident as part of Israel’s unrelenting drive to “Judaize” Jerusalem, and a striking injustice, because the state of Israel was built partly on the abandoned properties of Palestinian refugees. 

While Jews are entitled to reclaim property they owned before Israel’s founding, Palestinians may not. 

Those facing eviction in Sheikh Jarrah cannot recover the homes in Jaffa and Haifa that they once owned.

On the face of it, the latest escalation of violence is following the template of all inter-ethnic wars. 

Muslims observing Ramadan shouted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli right-wing groups chanting “Death to the Arabs.” 

The Israelis haughtily marched with their national flag on Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical Second Temple, and of Al-Aqsa, completed in the year 705. 

Battles in and around the Al-Aqsa compound erupted, with worshipers inside throwing stones at the Israeli police, who responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets and other projectiles, wounding hundreds.

But the young Arab protesters could claim victory, for they forced the postponement of an Israeli Supreme Court ruling on the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah. 

They also forced the police to change the route of the Jerusalem Day march away from the Muslim Quarter in the Old City.

The flare-up spilled over into pre-1967 Israel, where Islamist groups incited young Israeli Arabs. 

Mixed Jewish-Arab cities that were supposed to be exemplars of coexistence, such as Acre, Ramla, Jaffa, and Lod, erupted in an orgy of violence and vandalism. 

Lod was practically taken over by gangs of young Arabs. 

This was a pogrom, said Jewish residents. 

An old Jewish woman spoke of memories of Kristallnacht. The mayor of Lod drew the same comparison.

But Jerusalem has emerged as the crucible of conflict. 

It offered Hamas a golden opportunity to assert its predominance over Israel’s collaborators in the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority and sweep away PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s moribund leadership. 

Under Israeli pressure, Abbas had just canceled legislative elections for fear that Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2006, would win and extend its control to the West Bank.

Abbas framed his decision as a protest against Israel’s refusal to allow the Palestinians in East Jerusalem to participate in the elections. 

But the truth is that the PA’s presence in East Jerusalem had practically vanished, with the vacuum filled by a mostly secular young Palestinian generation that turned the Temple Mount (Haram Al-Sharif to Muslims) into the symbol of their resistance to Israeli occupation.

In the current eruption of violence, Hamas connected all the dots needed to gain primacy in the Palestinian national movement. 

It positioned itself as the protector of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa, as the spearhead of the Palestinians’ national and religious struggle against the Israeli-Jewish occupier, and also as the voice of the Arab minority in Israel proper.

Israelis and their complacent government were caught off guard. Hamas conducted an unprecedentedly massive missile attack on Israeli cities. 

They even launched salvos at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, sending half the country’s population to shelters. 

Israelis were left to wonder how their vulnerable home front could withstand a war with Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militia across the border in southern Lebanon. 

Hezbollah has an arsenal of 150,000 missiles many times more lethal than Hamas’s.

To make its case, Hamas was willing to pay a high price. Israel’s punitive airstrikes on Gaza have been devastating, targeting Hamas military commanders with brutal efficiency. 

But Hamas knows that in the asymmetric wars of this era, a militia hidden among two million civilians in one of the world’s most densely populated areas has practical immunity from defeat. 

Hamas also knows that the war’s reverberation throughout the region will force neighbors like Egypt and Hamas’s patron, Qatar, to mediate a ceasefire.

From the debris of Gaza, Hamas will then claim victory, not necessarily on the battlefield, but in the minds of its people. 

At that point, Hamas will have achieved its main objectives: an utterly discredited PA and heightened prestige as the ultimate protector of Islam’s holy shrines in Jerusalem.

Paradoxically, Netanyahu has no interest in destroying Hamas. 

Quite the contrary: he has struck an unwritten deal with it against Abbas’s PA, which his governments have consistently done all they could to weaken and humiliate. 

A Hamas Islamic state in Gaza offers Netanyahu the ideal pretext to reject peace negotiations and a two-state solution. 

Netanyahu even allowed Qatar to keep Gaza functioning by paying the salaries of Hamas’s functionaries.

Israel certainly cannot claim victory. 

The fragile coexistence between Jews and Arabs within its borders has been shaken. 

The prevailing consensus among Israelis that Palestinian nationalism had been defeated – and thus that a political solution to the conflict was no longer necessary – lies in tatters. 

And even as the violence escalates, it has become clear to both sides that the era of glorious wars and victories is over.


Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, is Vice President of the Toledo International Center for Peace. He is the author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy.

Why We Need Gender-Responsive Central Banking

Now that the pandemic has deepened a wide range of gender disparities and imposed a disproportionately large toll on women, central banks must recognize that they have a role to play in reversing these trends. Better economic conditions for women will mean a stronger recovery for all.

Anita Bhatia


NEW YORK – The coronavirus pandemic has hit women especially hard, particularly where they are most vulnerable: their incomes, health, and safety. 

Women make up the majority of workers in many of the sectors of our economies that came to a standstill last year. 

Making matters worse for women, health systems have cut or delayed sexual and reproductive health services to streamline treatment for COVID-19. 

And lockdowns and curfews have coincided with a spike in domestic violence.

These problems foretell a protracted reduction in women’s capacity to join the labor force, repay loans, post collateral, or start businesses. 

Worse, these threats to national economies could become permanent, unless policymakers act swiftly. 

That includes central banks, which have a number of tools for combating the pandemic’s worst effects on women.

The problem, of course, is that central banks are notoriously male-dominated institutions. 

Historically, they have never made gender a priority in the design and execution of policies affecting monetary positions, bank regulation, deposit insurance, or bond issuance. 

Changing this pattern will require four shifts in the policymaking process.

First, we need gender-responsive stimulus packages. Governments responded to the crisis with fiscal and monetary packages meant to stabilize aggregate demand. 

These included tax cuts, loan guarantees, wage protections, discounted utility bills, suspension of social security contributions, and direct cash transfers. 

Central banks, for their part, expanded their balance sheets to unprecedented levels and at staggering speed, printing money to buy not just government bonds but also corporate financial assets. 

In many countries, particularly advanced economies, the overall response was massive, because it had to be.

But data gathered through UN Women’s COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker show that only a handful of countries tailored their policies to account for women’s specific needs. 

The result has been a slower recovery for everyone. 

As the world prepares for another wave of stimulus spending and investment in reconstruction, it is crucial that these interventions be designed not just with women in mind, but with women in the room.

Second, women need loans, and central banks have an important role to play in how credit is directed to specific sectors. 

Accordingly, it is important to ensure that financing makes it to sectors where the majority of women work. 

As more women lose or are displaced from jobs – even in the informal economy – banks will have to reassess and possibly reclassify the segments of their loan portfolios that cater to female borrowers.

These segments – spanning hospitality, food, retail, tourism, domestic services, garment, and other industries where women form a majority of the labor force – are generally conceived to be “lighter on collateral.” 

But before the pandemic, they had been growing fast in emerging and developing economies, especially among local banks. 

That growth was driven as much by a commitment to equality as by the commercial potential of a previously ignored client cohort. 

If the recovery fails women, banks’ profitability will suffer.

Third, governments need new sources of finance, because fiscal balances were decimated by the pandemic. 

Public debts have grown exponentially and will need to be rolled over in the next few years, with sovereigns competing for funding in international bond markets. 

Looking for an edge in that competition, many will resort to thematic bonds earmarked to address environmental and social development issues.

The demand for such securities is large and growing, now that more than 3,000 investment houses (with a combined $100 trillion under management) have signed on to the UN-sponsored Principles of Responsible Investment. 

But while many private corporations and state-owned enterprises have issued “gender bonds,” no sovereign has yet done so. 

That must change, and when it does, central banks should be a part of the process.


Anita Bhatia, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, is Assistant-Secretary-General for Resource Management, UN System Coordination, Sustainability, and Partnerships. 

History and Memory

Thoughts in and around geopolitics.

By: George Friedman


Earlier this week, I published a piece on Afghanistan, and in the course of writing that piece, I mentioned the origins of the U.S.-Afghan war: 9/11. 

I was awoken at about 8 a.m. on that day and told that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. 

A short while later, I was told that another plane had struck. 

One plane hitting a skyscraper could be an accident. 

Two planes hitting the World Trade Center towers evaporated that possibility. 

I had no idea how this had happened, but I knew then that the world had been transformed.

My own life became a combination of fear and futile activity. 

The fear was for two of my children, then in the military. 

I feared that we had been attacked by terrorists and I feared we would go to war. 

And I feared for my country. 

As it became clear that the attackers were Islamic jihadists, it became possible that this was merely the opening salvo. 

And I was futilely busy, trying to understand the nature of the enemy, what they might do next and how to defeat them. 

Fear was the only reasonable response to what had happened. 

An attempt to shape a strategy was preposterous. 

My knowledge of their capabilities and resources was zero. 

At moments like this, busyness hides impotence.

It seemed to me that everything had to change. 

All airlines had been grounded and thousands of people were stranded. 

I was asked to go to a meeting, which was pointless since none of us knew what we were talking about, but I felt significant for being invited in a week when my insignificance was manifest. 

I boarded a plane two days after flights resumed, and my thoughts revolved around a single question: If the plane were hijacked, how would I kill the hijackers? 

I decided that my laptop would be my weapon. 

It was hard metal, and I would smash the hijackers’ heads with its point. 

I’m sure all of my fellow passengers were having the same insane thoughts, fingering some futile illusion of a weapon and looking for a suspicious Middle Eastern-looking gentleman. 

Yes, it was profiling, but as the origins of the hijackers jelled, it was clear that they were young men from the Middle East. 

Old women from China were likely not a threat. 

The TSA had not yet been ordered to be insane.

What is most striking now is the degree to which I had become insanely obsessed. 

I was holding a laptop, watching and perhaps hoping for young, swarthy men to show their presence. 

I was sure I’d be prepared to kill, filled with the deadly power of a laptop. 

Staying home was not an option. 

There were meetings to be held, and held they would be. 

The war will be held in a conference room. 

This had become the impotent pivot of my life.

Twenty years later, I wrote the article earlier this week and discovered something stunning. 

I had not thought intensely about 9/11 or al-Qaida for some years. 

The event that had riveted me with fear and battle lust had crossed my mind, but it had become a minor dimension of my life. 

I knew people who served in the subsequent wars, and I know that those wars cost them much, but my moment in history had cost me little. 

The sense that 9/11 was a transformative moment in history had passed, and with it my memory of what I had brought to the table: emotions.

Memory consists of two things. 

One is the thing you remember. 

The other is the emotion you felt when you encountered the thing you remember. 

It is easy to remember a thing like 9/11. 

It is infinitely harder to resurrect the emotions. 

I can remember what I felt at the time, but I no longer feel it, nor can I conjure it up. 

Those who have been in combat may not be able to stop feeling the emotions they had. 

Indeed, they may have more trouble remembering what the emotion was about than what they felt, and their lives can be deeply affected by the memory. 

The recollection of an emotion can be redemptive or it can be devastating. 

For me, if the emotions of 9/11 still haunted me, it would cost me the ability to think and perhaps to sleep – or worse, make me long for sleep. 

Memories of joy are easier to bear and are a blessing. 

Feeling what you felt when you encountered horror can be devastating. 

For those who suffer from it, PTSD is the urgent need to stop feeling what you felt that day.

History consists of events and the emotions with which we approach them. 

For my parents, their memory of the concentration camp was always there, and it seeped into their everyday lives. 

For them, the Holocaust was the center of human history. 

How could it have been otherwise? 

But history requires that the emotion be allowed to seep out. 

One way is to remember the events you were not at. 

I was not at Normandy, but I will never forget it. 

Nor will I forget the Constitutional Convention. 

I was not there, and not yet alive, but I can remember it. 

I can have emotions about these events now, but they are different from the emotions of those who were actually there. 

My parents’ emotions were prisons they could not escape. 

My emotions toward Normandy do not grip me the same way.

History is about memory, and memory is related to emotion. 

An emotion determines the degree to which something is significant. 

On Sept. 11, 2001, the emotions I and others felt made it impossible for us to hold it in proportion. 

It was everything that ever was or would be. 

But as the emotions seep out of the viewers’ minds, a sense of proportion emerges, and that sense of proportion is essential for living a good life. 

When the emotion creeps into your mind and won’t leave, you cannot see events clearly. 

At that point, the moment in which you are living and the thing that is at its center become the eternal moment. 

And that is the origin of fanaticism.

History, and for good measure geopolitics, demands that we remember what has happened and intuit the emotions of the actors but never feel them. 

Without this, all sense of proportion is lost, and you are not telling the story of the past and present, but rather the story that has come to haunt your mind. 

And since those thoughts are both powerful and misleading, you fail as a historian but succeed in other ways – as an ideologue, for example. 

But an ideologue can’t be a good historian, because his emotions tell him what the answer is even before the question is posed.

The same can be said for all human beings. 

9/11 happened and we remember it. 

It was a terrible moment, and we factor that in. 

But we don’t surrender to the emotion because if we surrendered to it we would become emotional ideologues and dangerous. 

Americans have lost the emotions they once had for 9/11 and can therefore find perspective. 

In other matters, Americans cannot lose their emotions about the past, and no sense of perspective or moderation is possible.

Memory is the foundation of history, and emotion is its manager. 

Losing that emotion or managing it prudently is the foundation of civilization. 

However far the U.S. went after 9/11, the emotion slowly seeped out. 

A nation that cannot stop feeling an emotion drawn of what once was is in danger. 

My parents could not forget the emotions of the Holocaust. 

I must. 

It is not my memory. 

I must not forget it happened. 

But I cannot let myself feel it. 

Preventing it in the future demands a ruthless sense of proportion.