Friedrich Nietzsche opined, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” I suspect he said this when was a young man, when he likely thought himself immortal. Older men, as I now am, understand quite clearly that many things can actually kill you! Anyway, as I post this blog, the United States recorded 558 COVID-19 virus deaths today (March 30, 2020). There is every indication this daily rate may continue for this month of April, on the way to over 200,000 cumulative deaths in this contagion’s wave, perhaps tailing off in May sometime (the wave seems to be about six weeks long). Let’s put this horrific number in perspective.
The WWII Battle of the Bulge was American’s most deadly battle of that war in terms of total casualties*. Historians generally bracket the battle between December 16 to January 25, give or take — about 40 days. The Americans recorded 20,876 killed-in-action (89,500 killed, wounded, or missing). That’s an average of about 520 battle deaths per day. If the COVID-19 casualty rates keep this 500+ run rate up during this month (April) — and there’s no evidence the curve has flattened nationwide, we will experience a heartbreaking sadness and trial that forged America’s Greatest Generation.
I am a late boomer kid, a son of card carrying members of this Greatest Generation. My parents grew up the during the Great Depression (1930’s) and fought World War II (1941-45). They designed and built The Arsenal of Democracy. They invented the transistor and the integrated chip, Teflon® and Tupperware®. They pioneered heart transplants, discovered DNA, landed astronauts on the moon, and desegregated the South. Granting Nietzsche his point, the Great Depression raised them tough, no doubt. But WWII bound their generation together and forged this greatest generation. They personally or as a community faced and grieved over death at an uncommon scale. And many, many of them made their lives count during and after the war.
The President’s 2016 campaign slogan was Make America Great Again. Not in anyone’s wildest dreams except, perhaps, a small coven of virologists, foresaw this COVID-19 virus pandemic. While the virus watchers in the CDC raised their alarming suspicions in early January, our leadership class was immersed in hyper-partisan impeachment proceeding. Granting it is pointless to criticize that any good thing could have been attempted sooner, we found ourselves ill prepared for a pandemic of this magnitude. As usual. America has never been ready for the next new war; we always scramble to catch up and figure out the fight. Our learning curve is full FUBAR and fog-of-war missteps, luck, second-guessing and tragic (and often fatal) incompetence. Then heroic leaders step forward and fight and scramble and inspire and solve and win. We figure it out. In WWII, we were getting the shit kicked out of us in North Africa during our first real engagement with the German army. It was General George Patton who showed the Army how to fight, eventually defeating his tactical mentor, General Erwin Rommel. While General Patton could be exasperatingly obnoxious (not unlike Mr. Trump at his worst), he had the necessary temperament (most of the time) for war. He made bold decisions and quick course corrections. To get a sense of his focus, read all of his “America Loves a Winner” speech before the 3rd Army the day before D-Day.
All that to say, let’s gather ourselves and recognize the profound opportunity our nation faces in these coming months. It may very well be as intense as the Battle of the Bulge — in real numbers of casualties and heroic sacrifices of our front line medical professionals. If we rise to this occasion, we will indeed win. And it will forge us into the next America’s Greatest Generation. Indeed, let us rise to this occasion.
*The deadliest battle in US history was the WWI battle of the Argonne Forrest during September, 1918; 26,277 KIA and 95,786 total killed and wounded.