A pair of sentences, published on April 17, show us how strange globalization has become: “Two semi-trailer trucks, cleverly marked as food-service vehicles, met us at the warehouse. When fully loaded, the trucks would take two distinct routes back to Massachusetts to minimize the chances that their contents would be detained or redirected.”

This passage didn’t appear in one of Richard Stark’s crime novels or in the script of an East Coast reshoot of Breaking Bad. It was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, describing a hospital’s desperate efforts to secure a shipment of personal protective equipment.

This is not simply a story about the United States. It reflects a much bigger change from a world of predictable trade and exchange to one of government blockades and daring heists—a change triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. The United States intercepted medical masks being…

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