American dead on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2021

by Max Yeh | January 20, 2021
4 min read
Each day, every day, during the panedemic, we are killing ourselves in greater numbers than the average daily death toll at the Battle of Gettsyburg in July 1863. Photograph of Gettysburg’s aftermath entitled "A Harvest of Death" by Timothy H. O’Sullivan. Source: Wikipedia Commons

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.

Max Yeh, Sierra County Sun Board of Directors
Max Yeh

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.”

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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

2 thoughts on “American dead on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2021”

  1. Nichole Trushell

    Thank you, Max. This is excellent and provides important historical context. The lack of concern I see in so many people in our county and broadly in the whole country continues to be alarming and stunningly selfish. I hope this article wakes up even a few. I note that the pandemic has not just “disappeared” or that it is anything like “the flu.”

  2. Sadly, from what I have read, the New Mexico State Veterans’ Home and Sierra Health Care have seen the majority of COVID-related deaths. The people therein institutionalized already have pre-existing conditions, which makes them at significantly higher risk. I do not seek to downplay the serious nature of the virus, but, with a survival rate of 99.02 percent among the general population, it is just not as deadly as Ebola, cholera, etc. IMHO, the culture that warehouses those most at risk sets them up to be more vulnerable. As a culture, we really should rethink how we plan to deal with the next few pandemics coming down the road as they seem to tend to be more frequent as the population density increases and people travel to exotic places and bring pathogens home.

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