|Download PDF of this full issue: v50n2.pdf (24.8 MB)|
War and COVID-19
By Fred Samia
It may be a cliché to say that we are at war with a microscopic bug (Donald Trump has even likened himself to a war-time president, although saying so doesn't make it so, especially in his case) but the novel coronavirus does put all our lives in jeopardy, and in that sense, is closer to threatening our very existence as a species than any war has ever done.
In war, you have to acknowledge the fact that you are in a lethal situation. In combat you learn, and if you're smart, quickly accept the reality that you could die at any moment and from an unseen enemy. Denial serves no purpose and puts you in more jeopardy. Acceptance allows for planning, action and the ability to adapt to changing situations.
A Marine's tour in Vietnam was 13-months, an interminably long time when you were at the base of it. If, in the beginning months you thought about how much time there was still in front of you, it would have been devastating to your ability to cope. So it is with the pandemic. Focusing on the immediate few days ahead serves better than stressing about how many months it might persist. Accept but don't obsess.
The first priority as a troop fighting in a war is survival, that of yours and your buddies.
There is always an element of the unknown in combat, and even when those that should "know," whose job it was to know, shared information with us, we never solely trusted it or them. It became almost a standing joke that when word came from "Intelligence" that there was no enemy nearby and therefore no likelihood of an attack, our senses heightened, we increased our watches and made sure that we were prepped to meet one. We had learned firsthand how to read the enemy from our experience in the field on "search and destroy" operations and in manning combat bases hard up against the DMZ, the northernmost part of South Vietnam, something many of those in G-2 (Intelligence) had never done. Prepare but don't obsess.
Similarly, with the pandemic, we need to hear what is being told us but leaven it with our own knowledge, experience and common sense. Rumors ("scuttlebutt" in Marine slang) were rife among the troops in the field. Someone always knew someone else who was privy to inside information about the next operation or NVA (North Vietnamese Army) attack. And almost invariably the information was false or only partly true. With the 24-7 news cycle of the mass media, the need for content drives many stations and networks to air anything that seems related to the pandemic, no matter how far afield or lightly researched it might be. Keeping one's intake of that kind of "rumor" to a minimum helps keep the stress down. Be informed but don't obsess.
The single most important "weapon" a combat Marine has is the Marine standing next to him. That, too, is a cliché, repeated endlessly in otherwise unrealistic war movies, but it is also a truth. You fight for your survival and that of your buddy. If either you or he can't or isn't able to do what you've been trained to do, then you both are in mortal danger. Looking out for your buddy was looking out for yourself. So, in this time of deadly threat, look out for your "buddy"—your family, your friend, your neighbor. Be safe, be smart, be a hopeful warrior.
Fred Samia served in Vietnam with A Co, 3rd Tanks, 3rd Marine Div, 1967-68; his eight decorations include the Purple Heart. He has been a member of VVAW since 1970.