By Charles D. Allen
Like many Americans, I awake each morning to news broadcast and commentaries about the novel coronavirus, now-labeled COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the day and over the course of each week, update alerts, televised information briefings, and online town hall meetings are now part of the landscape. And each evening, newscaster and late night talk show hosts recap the carnage.
Across the globe the numbers are staggering, with over three million infected by the virus and more than 200,000 fatalities. In the United States, with more than 1 million people testing positive for COVID-19, the number of fatalities in the last week of April exceeded the 58,220 deaths recorded as U.S. casualties of the Vietnam War.
Dubbed “Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War” in the 1980 Canadian documentary, the first death was recorded on June 8, 1956. The last two deaths were two U.S. Marines killed in Vietnam on April 29, 1975, one day before the evacuation of the U.S. embassy and the fall of Saigon.
National Public Radio recently reported the first COVID-19 U.S. death occurred on Feb. 6. It took less than 90 days to match the number of deaths incurred during nearly 20 years of war.
I grew up in the 1960s with Vietnam very much in the forefront of national attention coinciding with the Civil Rights Movement. I remember watching national broadcast anchor Walter Cronkite on the evening news provide casualty numbers of wounded and killed in action, and each Sunday in church hearing prayers offered on behalf of members of our community serving in Vietnam.
And Americans were anxiously waiting for the next announcement of the draft and its sequence numbers-wondering who would be called up next.
What I do not recall is the Hong Kong flu/1968 pandemic, with the H3N2 strain that killed 1 million people worldwide and caused an estimated 100,000 deaths in the United States over two flu seasons from 1968 to 1970.
Like our current COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of victims were over 65 years old. I do remember from 1968 the shock of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the assassinations of two national leaders (Rev. Dr. Martin L. King Jr, and U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy), and the widespread civil unrest that ensued.
In my teenage years, I was unaware of local community actions to address the challenges we now face across the nation. Perhaps it was just family taking care of family, and neighbors taking care of neighbors with little reliance on, or expectation of, assistance from the federal government. Our nation was in turmoil and challenged to the needs of diverse states and cities.
As during the Vietnam War, the lower socio-economic classes in the United States are now at higher risk, more susceptible to exposure, and have a higher fatality rate due to underlying conditions.
In my hometown of Carlisle, Pa., we are fortunate to have several organizations that have come together during this pandemic to care for each other.
It is more than caring for “the least among us.” Many of our community members experience ill health (physical and mental), food insecurity, joblessness, lack of affordable housing and homelessness, domestic abuse, and financial distress now accentuated during this pandemic.
I have grown to detest the phrase “The New Normal,” as it leads to the conclusion that we want to go back to the old ways.
What this pandemic should teach us is that the old normal is not acceptable and we should/must create a community and nation that cares equally for all its members.
During our Rotary Club of Carlisle-Sunrise meeting this week, I learned of the efforts of the United Way of Carlisle & Cumberland County. It has established the Carlisle Area Emergency Response Fund (COVID-19) to help our community non-profits mitigate the challenges faced by so many of our community members and to complement government social services.
Please visit https://uwcarlisle.org/dollars
Col. Charles D. Allen (U.S. Army, ret.) is a professor of Leadership and Cultural Studies at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.