As we begin a new year after 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic in this country and as the country’s death toll surpasses 400,000, we should consider what it means that Americans are killing each other knowingly or ignorantly, willfully or accidentally, in such large numbers.
In the First World War, the United States lost 116,516 people (according to the documented table in the Wikipedia article, “United States Military Casualties of War”) over a period of about 19 months (April 6, 1917 to Nov. 11, 1918). We’ve more than tripled that in half the time. But we are even more vigorous in killing ourselves with COVID-19 than that reckoning implies because over half of the WWI dead was due to the influenza pandemic of 1918: 54,402 combat dead; 63,114 dead of the flu, according to “War Losses (USA)” on the website International Encyclopedia of the First World War. So, actually, we have killed almost seven times the number of Americans that we lost fighting WWI in half the time.
In the Second World War, the United States lost 405,399 people (see the Wikipedia article referenced above). We passed that number two or three days ago as we continued killing each other at the rate of over 3,000 a day. Yet, even this consideration does not capture the comparison, because the war lasted four years, and we have done our killing in only 10 months.
The most deadly war for us was the Civil War, and it is the war most like this present pandemic—because our enemy is ourselves. As in the Civil War, families become the enemy within. We carry the disease to our parents; brothers infect brothers; wives, their husbands; and husbands, their wives. We infect our own children.
In the Civil War, about 655,000 Americans killed each other (364,511 in the Union Army; over 290,000 among the Confederates). Although our killing has already exceeded the devastating losses on each side of the war, we hope that with hundreds of millions of vaccinations we will stop the steady rise in fatalities. We hope it even as we fear that not enough people will accept the vaccine to halt the killing. If nothing changes, by March, after a year of the pandemic, we will have equaled the death toll of the Civil War, which lasted 4.5 times as long.
The most deadly battle of the Civil War was Gettysburg. That battle lasted three days and resulted in 3,155 combined deaths on both sides (see the Wikipedia article on the “Battle of Gettysburg”). That is about 1,051 deaths a day. With COVID-19, we are killing ourselves at a much higher rate than that: This past week we averaged about 3,300 deaths a day (said the New York Times “State of the Virus” count on Jan. 15). We are fighting three Battles of Gettysburg every day, day after day. We are relentless in our careless self-destruction.
Covid-19 is far deadlier than any war the country has ever fought, far deadlier than any battle we have ever fought.
We imagine war to be terrible, and even those who take us to war apologize for war’s necessity. But with COVID-19, we vigorously promote doing nothing to prevent killing each other. We even demean those who are fighting the disease.
Those who have died have died in vain, because their shocking deaths have not stirred the people to stop the killing.
It did not have to be this way. Many other societies have successfully prevented their people from massive self-destruction. Two days ago, Worldometers showed 1,230 American COVID deaths for every 1 million of the population (that is a proportional death rate or mortality rate). In comparison, Germany’s mortality rate is 573 deaths per million people, less than half of our rate of killing. Turkey’s is 285 deaths per million. India has lost 110 people per million. Norway, 96/M. Iceland, 85/M. Algeria, 64. Pakistan, 49. Japan, 36. Australia, 35. Hong Kong, 22. Cuba, 15. South Korea, 15. New Zealand, 5. China, 3. Thailand, only 1 death per million people. Taiwan, 0.3 deaths per million. And there are many more countries in Asia, in Africa, in South America whose people have taken the pandemic seriously and halted the epidemic among them.
Sierra County’s mortality rate as of two days ago was a whopping 3,636 people per million (40 dead out of a population of 11,000). Still, locals and visitors think that because we are rural and sparsely populated, this is a safe place to hang out: “Hell, I hardly have any contact with anyone.”