You Don’t Depend on Volunteers When at War

I wrote this article two or three days ago. I originally had a chart as the illustration to accompany it but it kept getting outdated so I thought the grim reaper was appropriate.  If you want an updated version of the spread of this virus you can go here or here.

On last Wednesday China reported that for the first time that there were no new cases of Covid-19 in the country since the epidemic began. The reports from Italy are increasingly depressing especially since it has 60 million people compared to China’s 1.3 billion. Well over 4,000 people have died there compared to the less than 3,500 people in China. China is now sending doctors and medical equipment to Italy.

China’s death rate  is 3.98% while Italy’s is 7.94%. The approach taken by China and Italy differed greatly when the virus first arrived. China, although somewhat slowly at first, began a major no questions asked crackdown confining people to their homes, taking those testing positive to separation centers, massively testing and shutting down all the operations of over fifty million people. It is now starting to return to normal with its fingers crossed.

Until February 23 Italy had done little. Suddenly on that date it noted a sudden rise in cases to a little over 150. It would not go into a nationwide lock down until March 9 dilly-dallying in its approach. The two historic examples present a compelling  picture to anyone in charge of the fight against the virus that the best way to do it is to follow the example of China and not that of Italy. China showed its harshness to save lives; Italy didn’t want to be too harsh and army trucks are being used to cart the dead out of town.

Here in the United States we are following Italy’s path. Our highest officials are seeking voluntary compliance with guidelines they have put out. Unable to find effective leadership in Washington, the states are now implementing their own strict measures which will do little good if not all states participate.

A writer for an Italian  newspaper told us expecting voluntary compliance is unwise. He wroteWe . . .  could have mitigated the situation we are now in, in which people who could have been saved are dying. I, and too many others, could have taken a simple yet morally loaded action: We could have stayed home. 

What has happened in Italy shows that less-than-urgent appeals to the public by the government to slightly change habits regarding social interactions aren’t enough when the terrible outcomes they are designed to prevent are not yet apparent; when they become evident, it’s generally too late to act. I and many other Italians just didn’t see the need to change our routines for a threat we could not see.

Italy has now been in lockdown since March 9; it took weeks after the virus first appeared here to realize that severe measures were absolutely necessary.”

As of last Wednesday seven states including Texas had imposed no restrictions on its citizens. Schools remain open as do bars, restaurants and other gathering spots. In other states restrictions are imposed to a greater or lesser degree.  The beaches in Florida were filled with college kids on spring break and the Florida governor refused to do anything about it until a video came out of college kids partying and disclaiming the dangerousness of the virus.

A telling tale in the Boston Globe is about a 30-year-old doctor who went to Miami in  early March with five friends for five days to be part of the Winter Party Festival. They all got sick, four testing positive for the virus. He tells about how closely they interacted with others there and on their return. You can only imagine Pandora’s Box being opened with the hundreds of infected festival goers spreading their infections throughout the country. One person infects two, those two four, etc. We’ve seen how that works.

When the doctor and his friends arrived in Florida on March 5 only 3 people in Florida had tested positive for the virus. Last Thursday I wrote that “Florida reported on Wednesday last a jump of almost 100 cases to 314 overnight due to increased testing. Thursday the number rose by 62 with the death toll at 8.” Saturday it had 563 with 11 deaths.

You’d like to think the Administration would recognize severe, mandatory measures are needed. Strangely we seem to be facing a head-in-the-sand approach asking people to modify their behavior and leaving it up to them to decide whether to do it.

Only the dumbest battlefield commander would ask his troops to volunteer to attack an enemy held position. A competent commander will  order them to do it.  Asking for voluntary action is plainly dumb. During the Vietnam War, and remember we are at war against this virus, the young men weren’t asked to volunteer.  They were compelled to join.

Before setting up a situation where our death toll far surpasses that of Italy we needed mandatory nationwide testing, confinement to our homes, and lock downs. Better we take this foul taking medicine in one swallow than have it slowly fed to us month after month. The pusillanimity and prevarications and pretense in Washington has put the nation in peril.

14 replies on “You Don’t Depend on Volunteers When at War”

  1. Bill, if you think that statistic applies to the combat arms (Infantry, Armor, and Artillery) you are sorely mistaken.

    1. Hutch, today with our all volunteer forces, and our 20 year long wars, we get 1.2 million active and 800,000 reserves for every year. Remember, too, many of those drafted would have volunteered for the Army and Marines anyway, like Wally and Shoes, and Matt and Jim and Bobby.

  2. Bill, “WarDogs” data may be a little skewed. Let’s get DoD stats. One stat that may reflect the tenor of the times is the percentage of Naval Academy students who opted for Marine Officer training during the Viet Nam adventure. Forget that.

    1. War Dogs is the best data I’ve found, and it’s based on DOD as far I know, Hutch. It’s all combat veterans, like Steve Driscoll.

  3. Matt: Here’s a Nobel Prize Winner who agrees with me: “Don’t Panic” he says.

    From Today’s New York Post:

    “The US will see a turning point in the battle to contain coronavirus sooner than expected, according to the Nobel laureate who correctly predicted when China would get through the worst of its crisis.
    Stanford University biology professor Michael Levitt, who won the 2013 Nobel Prize in chemistry, said his models don’t support predictions that the virus will wreak months or even years of social disruption or cause millions of deaths, the Los Angeles Times reported.
    “What we need is to control the panic … we’re going to be fine,” assured Levitt . . .,
    His optimistic report on China said the country would peak with around 80,000 cases and 3,250 deaths. He was not far off: China has reported 81,588 cases with 3,281 deaths as of March 24.”

    Of course the CDC’s worst case analysis says 210 million cases in the U.S., 20 million hospitalizations and 200,000 to 1.7 million deaths.

    No one knows how this will go!!!

  4. Matt, the fact is 70% volunteered, whether out of a sense of service, duty, honor, adventure, or fear that they’d be drafted, or out of mixed motives. The fact is that, without compulsory service, for over forty years we’ve had all volunteer armies. The fact is that the war’s we’ve fought since Vietnam have been limited, mindful of our economy, mindful of minimizing civilian casualties, mindful of socio-economic impacts (think of the number of refugees we’ve created in Syria and Libya, for example.)

    This war on coronavirus will have its civilian casualties and adverse socio-economic impacts. too.

    Now ask yourself, whether to save 100,000 lives from the Coronavirus will you risk impoverishing 50 million Americans, impoverishing future generations (someone’s going to have to pay back the trillions lost from the stock market and the two trillion the government will borrow to help bail us out.) If your answer is yes, then ask how much of today’s GDP (20 trillion) you’d be willing to spend to save more lives. We currently spend about 16% of our GDP on health care. If we spend 50% on health care, will there be enough left for food, infrastructure, clothing, housing, education, law enforcement, transportation, scientific-engineering research and development, DEFENSE? Never mind mentioning recreation and the arts. We have to consider these things.

    If you let the economy collapse, you can’t pay for good health care. If you let the economy collapse, more Americans will suffer physically and mentally and more will die. Look at the health care in Venezuela. Cuba supposedly has excellent health care, and their citizens can barely feed themselves. An impoverished citizenry does not create new medicines, new advances in surgery, new technologies which improve all our lives.

    You have to consider both life and the economy at the same time: We always do. Sixteen percent of our economy is allocated to health care. Not fifty percent. If we allow our economy to fail, we’ll be less able to provide good health care. If we allow our economy to fail, we will likely increase the risk of stress, depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, suicide. Why did folks jump out of buildings during the stock market crash of 1929? If folks lose jobs, housing conditions deteriorate, marriages break up, homelessness increases, sanitation deteriorates, disease transmission increases. Disease follows the impoverished.

    A good economy produces healthy people, healthy families, stable marriages, healthy children. The measures we are implementing today must be measured and short term. Governor Baker’s stay-at-home will be reviewed in 14 days. He know it cannot be extended indefinitely; it too will be measured, taking all factors into account.

    Neither you or I know if the economy will come back. Neither you are I know how many lives will be saved by an “all out war” on the Coronavirus. We are engaging in a relatively new, great social experiment. In retrospect, we’ll measure the costs and benefits.

    The number of deaths from Coronavirus will be calculated one day. The number of deaths due to our economic shut down over the long term may be incalculable.

  5. Bill: 2/3 of the grunts in VN volunteered? I can tell you weren’t around back, then. Where do you get that crap?

    1. In 68-69 you could be drafted into the crotch. So much for volunteers. The only guys volunteering were smoking jones in the rear areas. Ten thousand guys were AWOL in Saigon. Flush out your head gear. You have things way wrong about VN.

    2. Khalid,
      I get my data from myriad Sources: “More than three-quarters of the men who fought in Vietnam volunteered to join the military. Of the roughly 8.7 million troops who served in the military between 1965 and 1973, only 1.8 million were drafted.” Draftees accounted for 30.4% (17,725) of combat deaths in Vietnam.“ Therefore, volunteers accounted for about 70% of deaths.
      See, e.g., Fact v. Fiction:

      For complete and accurate socio-economic-medical data on the Vietnam War, see: Vietnam Statistics, United States War Dogs Association:

      Since you asked, I’ll answer: I was in college (B.C.) Medical School (Georgetown) and Public Health School (Harvard) during Vietnam and served two years as a Commissioned Officer in the U.S. Public Health Service thereafter (1975-77). Some of my best lifelong friends served in combat in Vietnam (Hutch, Tuck, Harry and Shoes, to mention a few, as did my cousin Jimmy.)

      Read my two-volume history, “Shots Heard Round the World, Americans Answer the Call to Arms”, number about 12,000,000 on Amazon’s Best Sellers, the last I looked. My best seller, “Three Billboards Outside Boston Mass: Prosecute the Persecutors Who Abuse Federal Prosecutorial Power” numbers about 4,775,000 on Amazon’s best sellers.

      I’ve experienced a lot and think about a lot of things. War and its consequences are one of them. Disease is another one. Life a third. The good times, a fourth. I think of music, and the songs Mustang Sally and Wild Thing, too,which our rock&roll band played at our cottage on Cape Cod in the summer of ’66.

      A year ago, I said to my friend Joe Burns, a high school and college classmate and now a provost at Boston College: “Joe, I’ve written 10 books nobody ever reads.” Joe said, “Bill, everyone on this campus has written 10 books nobody ever reads.”

      At least some people read some of my posts.

  6. Texas must be reading Matt, as the largest counties have just issued stay at home orders. See below.

    From Statista, as of March 23, here are the Coronavirus Cases per million persons. You see we are closer to China than Italy. You see why Texas may be less concerned, even so the Texas Tribune reports “State’s Largest Counties issue Stay-At-Home-Orders.” The responses are evolving.
    Cases Per Million Population:
    Italy 979
    Spain 616
    Germany 300
    Iran 265
    France 242
    South Korea 174
    United States 108,
    UK 86,
    China 58
    TEXAS 22,
    NEW YORK 1,000 (20,000 cases, 20 million population)
    Massachusetts 114 (roughly 800 cases, 7 million population)

    My own calculation:
    Europe population 740 million, 194,000 cases = 262 cases per million.
    United States, 44,000 cases, population 320 million = 138 cases per million. (compare with above; data is evolving; we are inching closer to South Korea, where new cases are diminishing. Will the U.S. cases continue to rise? For how long? Will we approach Europe (double U.S. per capita rate?) China already is eliminating or relaxing its stay at home orders. The U.S. may let up on stay-at-home orders and recommendations, too, if new cases decline.)

    We’ll wait and see. Until then, don’t panic. Panic induces stress and stress, especially prolonged stress, can seriously impair the immune system and the ability to fight off viruses and other diseases.

  7. During the Vietnam War, two-thirds (2/3) of soldiers were volunteers.

    During Vietnam, some advocated the use of nuclear weapons, some said bomb Vietnam back to the stone age, some advocated an all out war, some advocated more and more troops, some said unless we stop Communism in Vietnam it would spread throughout South East Asia. The war-mongers’ Domino Theory proved false. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed.

    You can overreact in a WAR.

    Expert independent authorities (non-political) have commended the CDC and the Trump Administration for their response to the Coronavirus Crisis. Look them up!

    2. In America, there are 50 States; in Europe there are 50 Countries. Each state and each country has acted differently to the VIRUS with different results. Some reacted poorly . . . New York’s Public Health Commissioner urging everyone to ignore warnings and attend festivals . . . .most have reacted appropriately.

    3. Keep in mind that the wholesale closure of schools only began around the second week of March. It’s easy to throw stones at all those Administrators (say in Michigan, with its great medical schools). It’s easy to say “I would have closed those schools and those beaches and those clubs earlier.” It’s easy to say, “Shut everything down; order everyone to stay home” without weighing the costs and benefits. Experts are weighing the costs and benefits. Governors and Administrators are consulting the experts in their states and making rational, non-hysterical decisions. Remember when Trump ordered travel shut down from China, Joe Biden started talking about “hysterical xenophobia”. Now, Joe’s advise parallels Trump’s.

    4. Each year we lose 30-60,000 to the FLU. Coronavirus is worse than the Flu, more infectious and more severe symptomatically (severe pneumonia requiring ventilators) and a higher mortality rate (about 1.4% of those infected die; almost all elderly with pre-existing medical conditions.) We won’t know the true mortality rate until more have been tested. We don’t quarantine everyone and shut down the economy every year to contain the flu. We don’t ban automobiles (30,000 deaths a year.)

    5. The best minds in medicine, biological sciences (virology, immunology, infectious diseases, epidemiology, the history of medicine) and public health are making the best decisions they can.

    6. The approach to quarantine everyone discounts the adverse mental and physical effects from social isolation, job loss, and disruption of America’s socio-economic fabric. Should we bankrupt the nation? We don’t bankrupt the nation when at war. We accept they’ll be casualties. 50,000 deaths during Vietnam; 400,000 during World War II; 12,000 during the 2009 Swine Flu Epidemic. To order everyone to stay at home throughout the country is draconian, to impose martial law and to compulsorily enforce that order would be akin to sending 20 million U.S. troops to Vietnam to win that war, to discount soldiers’ deaths and civilian casualties in Vietnam, to discount socio-economic suffering in Vietnam, to discount the toll on America’s economy and psyche and moral fabric.

    7. The wars we’ve fought post-Vietnam have been low scale with all volunteers. That’s the model. Today, we try to avoid civilian casualties. Avoid socio-economic dislocation. Today we are trying to battle the virus at the same time as we maintain our economy. Our economic health, our social health, our physical health must all be considered simultaneously.

    8. We do multi-factorial analyses.

    1. William:

      Why statistics are misleading. People volunteer during Vietnam because they were going to be drafted. As someone said: “Many men, who didn’t want to go to war, but knew they were about to be drafted, decided to name their own poison and signed up for an alternate branch of the military like the Navy or the Air Force.”

      1. Few in the scientific or medical community agree with Trump. Dr. Fauci is at war with him.

      2. And some have not acted at all.

      3. Don’t quite follow what your point is other than some attack on Biden.

      4. You’re also suggesting that all the people who have taken strict measures are over reacting to the coronavirus. Don’t you think they know about the flu and auto deaths which you want to bring up even though they have nothing at all to do with the problem. How come you know so much more than these people? What you suggest is that because some die of other events we should not do anything to prevent an equal number or more of dying from the coronavirus. How does that make sense?

      5. The best minds are offering advice to those in charge. Some listen, some don’t. Trump thinks he knows better than all the best minds.

      6. No one has discounted the adverse effects. They all talk about them. They do so in light of the value of life compared to the value of the economy. You are pro-life. Don’t you think that should be the way people think that all life not only that of the womb but that of old folk should be protected? Is a fetus more important than a grandmother? The nation can always recover from an economic problem, no one can come back from death. Your comparison limps. We do need draconian measures. In case you haven’t noticed our cases are going up and up. What’s to stop them. Sending people out to spread the virus among others doesn’t seem to be worth while. Look at Italy. We are trying to prevent that here without even taking the harsh measures Italy has taken.

      7. I suggest the economy must come behind the saving of lives.

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