Memorial Day commemorates those who died in military service to our country. These people died not for a chunk of land, for the natural resources available on that chunk of land, nor for any such simple material possession. They died for an idea, a way of life, as well as for each other. We used to be the Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave. Now we’re the land of the lockdown and the home of the trepidatious.
The bravery of heroes past has been replaced by dirty looks for those who dare to go outside without a mask – even in their own cars – where mask wearing, at best, can only be justified as a sign of solidarity. But solidarity for what? Certainly not freedom. That solidarity happens when people stand shoulder to shoulder against the jackboots who would take someone to jail for what now appears to be the shocking desire to earn a living to feed a family.
What follows are three stories of heroism, and four contrasting acts of cowardice. May the deeds of the past awaken in us a spirit of true courage, or at least help us to remember where our spines are located.
During the American Revolution, everyone who fought was risking not only death in war, but worse, being branded a traitor to Britain, which would end in hanging, drawing, and quartering. These heroes fought for basic freedoms. They believed in freedom of movement, freedom to protest, freedom to worship, and the duty of the people, after every peaceable measure was extinguished, to throw off the yoke of tyranny. They would be appalled at the draconian measures implemented by one-man fiat in states and cities to prevent a disease that may prove less deadly than the flu, when all is said and done. They would also be embarrassed at the timid responses of many willing victims, who want nothing more than for government to stroke their hair and tell them everything will be okay.
During WWI, Sergeant Alvin York was part of a patrol charged with capturing a German machine gun nest. After losing several of his comrades, including the commanding officer, and being pinned down by German fire, then-Corporal York took command, single handedly capturing the machine gun, as well as dozens of soldiers. A hero who acted both bravely and decisively under extreme pressure when seconds counted, I doubt Sgt. York would look favorably on government officials who jumped the gun so significantly – overreaching, trampling liberties, and then coming up with the excuse that they didn’t have time to make the best decisions.
In Sergeant York’s case, seconds mattered. With Covid we had days and even weeks of warning, and we still scrambled like decapitated chickens when the disease finally reached our shores. We still made the wrong choices, acting out of fear rather than a presumption of liberty, treating everyone as if we are all equally at risk and neglecting taking the right precautions to protect the truly vulnerable. Italy recently reported that over 99 percent of the Covid dead in that country had pre-existing conditions. This vulnerability was known early on.
It takes incredible bravery to go into long odds with an uncertain outcome, doing your job in spite of the danger. The early landing parties on D-Day’s Omaha beach during WWII exemplify this kind of courage. But it takes another kind altogether to accept certain doom, especially to volunteer for it. The airmen of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo fall into this latter category. There was no uncertainty as they took off – they flew land-based bombers off an aircraft carrier, a purpose for which the planes were never intended, knowing full well that the best case scenario would be running out of fuel behind enemy lines, on a volunteer mission. If they could see the shortsightedness with which we have condemned more people to death as a direct result of the virus, and even more from the expected poverty bomb, they would surely dismiss us as frightened children hiding under the blankets from ghosts.
One last note: in all fairness, not every tyrannical act undertaken during Covid can be attributed to cowardice. There are also those who have found that a dash of fear sweetens the flavor of their power. We should not be surprised if they are trying to maintain it by whatever means they can. They bring a different shame to heroes past.
Mike Davis is a Research Fellow at 1889 Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.