It’s been weeks since our country passed the milestone of 200,000 Americans known to have died from the coronavirus. What’s the next important number in our death toll?
To me, the next notable milestone will be 291,557 American deaths.
That’s the number of American combat deaths in World War II. That’s the death toll we reached in over three-and-a-half years of global warfare.
Odds are that it’s a number of American deaths that the COVID-19 virus will cause in about eleven months.
Yet there are still people in my community of Billings, and all over the country, who say that the pandemic isn’t real. There are still people here who feel that wearing a mask around other people is just too much to ask of them.
I think of what was required of Americans when our people were dying during World War II.
Americans were issued ration books, and were restricted in the items they could buy. Tires, gasoline, sugar, bacon, bicycles, meat, cheese, and many other products were rationed by the U.S. government for the duration of the war.
There were price controls and rent controls. There were shortages of many basic items like cars and canned foods.
Americans in that time weren’t necessarily happy about all these limitations and sacrifices. But they stuck it out to help our country get through the crisis.
What does it say about us as a people when so many Americans feel that wearing a simple cloth mask when they’re around other people is just too much of a burden?
This virus is an enemy of our nation and the rest of the world. In a few weeks, it will have killed more Americans than the 291,557 that our combined enemies killed in those three-and-a-half years of war. Why are some Americans unwilling to help fight this new enemy in the simplest way?
And why is the present government of our nation unwilling to exercise even the most basic level of leadership to slow down the number of deaths?
Why did the President of the United States lie to the people about the nature and severity of this crisis?
And why are so many Americans OK with that?
To quote the president, “It is what it is.”
But I ask that you take notice of this number – 291,557 – as we surpass it, probably sometime around Christmas.
Think of what that number represents. Think of what surpassing that number says about us.
Steven D. Paulson is a longtime resident of Billings. He and his contemporaries were raised by the World War II generation.
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