The New Citizen Soldier


The “citizen soldier” is one of the best-known symbols of the American spirit. Picture the Minutemen who fought the Redcoats at Lexington and Concord, the Doughboys who stopped the Germans in the Argonne Forest, the Marines who raised Old Glory on Iwo Jima.

But the war against COVID-19 gives the term “citizen soldier” a whole new meaning. Here’s why.

Our independence from England was won by civilian militias and a temporary army of recruits who returned to civilian life when the war ended. The Civil War was fought almost entirely by soldiers recruited or conscripted after the war started, and almost all of the survivors returned to civilian life when their enlistment was up.

Both World War I and World War II caught us without regular armed forces sufficient to meet the need. But ordinary citizens answered the call of duty, temporarily giving up their civilian liberties for a soldier’s discipline and sacrifice.

But the war against COVID-19 is a whole new kind of war. The “soldiers” are civilians who haven’t enlisted, even temporarily, in the armed forces. We’re all on active duty now, and we’ve all got to think like soldiers.

The first lessons a soldier learns are that orders must be carried out promptly and completely and that each member of the unit is responsible for the safety of the others. Recklessly endangering fellow soldiers would be unthinkable and, like disobeying orders, would be severely punished.

Failure to follow the urgent recommendations of health experts during a pandemic is the moral equivalent of disobeying orders. It’s also the literal equivalent of needlessly exposing yourself and your unit to enemy fire and thereby needlessly overloading the aid stations and field hospitals with casualties.

Soldiers accept certain limitations on their personal liberties during their time of service as the price of helping to preserve those liberties for themselves and all other Americans in the long run. In past wars, civilians have been spared those limitations but have had to accept rationing, shortages, and some travel restrictions. COVID-19 has made it necessary for every American to accept both sets of limitations and sacrifices.

COVID-19 has also given the new “citizen soldier” something else in common with traditional soldiers past and present: the very real chance of being killed.

With ever-changing guidelines instead of clear and enforceable rules, the integrity and responsibility of individual citizens are more important than ever. We must all take our orders (or advice) from authorities based on their knowledge and experience, not their political affiliation.

And we must all remember that a casualty curve that levels out or starts trending downward doesn’t mark the end of the war. The war won’t be over until the casualty count drops to zero.


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Language Pollution



Oh, wait. Better make that RENDER ASSISTANCE!

Our language has been polluted by people who use words to mislead, appease, impress, gloss over, or just feel good instead of to inform or clarify.

America’s unwholesome love affair with polysyllabification (using lots of syllables) started with the ivy-covered philosophers who ruined public education in the 1960’s. It gained big-time traction when their disciples began trotting out such idiotic terms as differently abled for handicapped and developmentally disadvantaged for mentally retarded.

Liberals are always on the lookout for longer terms to replace perfectly good and widely understood words that aren’t warm and fuzzy enough for them or don’t sound sufficiently high-falutin’ to fit their own self-image. That’s not to say that conservatives are less likely to know words of more than one or two syllables. But they have other, more effective ways of obscuring what they really mean, which they use to great effect in recruiting and retaining the less intellectually adroit segment of their fan base.

It’s no surprise that “educators” are suckers for polysyllabic euphemisms, since they’re required to teach their students that feeling good is a higher priority than knowing stuff. But it’s weird that broadcasters share this fetish, since so many of them have so much trouble saying most of the simpler words they already use.

But it has come to pass that people without homes are said to be experiencing homelessness. So what’s next? Families whose homes are flooded experiencing inundation? Murder victims experiencing end-of-life events?

The feel-gooders feel better and the broadcasters apparently feel more dignified saying experiencing homelessness instead of homeless, but they’re downplaying the severity of the crisis (or the experience) by making it sound like a college student’s research project. Why not just call homeless people residentially disadvantaged so we can completely ignore that icky reality of people with no place to live?

The Language Nazis have made up some bizarre myths to justify their efforts to ban the use of certain words, but their excuse for trying to exorcise handicapped takes the cake — or should we say experiences the acquisition of the baked goods?

They claim that handicap comes from cap in hand, an old-time term for begging: a poor man might hold out his cap so other people could drop coins into it. Actually, cap in hand more often meant subservient: lower-class men were expected to remove their caps in the presence of the upper classes, especially if they were approaching their “betters” to request a favor.

But none of that has anything to do with the word handicap, which comes from an equally old-time but totally different term.

Sporting contests were often invented on the spur of the moment. It might be a race from the pub to Elmer’s barn, a challenge to lift the most bricks, or even such a “hold my beer” event as tossing a hedgehog over one shoulder and into a rain barrel.

Interest was added by writing special conditions on slips of paper: left-handed, one arm tied behind the back, standing at various distances from the target, and so on. The slips were drawn from someone’s cap, which gave us the term hand in cap, which survives today as handicap. In sports, it now means a calculation to reduce rather than expand the disparity among competitors, and in general use it means less than the ordinary ability to do something.

Government and the public relations “profession” are not immune to the lure of polysyllabification. Consider the signs on a fleet of state ferries that say Emergency Vessel Embarcation Station rather than Lifeboat Station or just Lifeboat. And consider the public address announcement heard on every ferry as it approaches the dock: Upon arrival at our destination, all passengers must disembark the vessel.

Embarcation and disembark mean nothing to most Americans who graduated from high school in the past 40 tears, and half of them wouldn’t know what a vessel is even when they’re riding on one. So imagine how foreign tourists must react to these signs and announcements.

Okay, you’re right: many foreign tourists know our language better than our own high school graduates do.

Nevertheless, America needs to eschew obfuscation (refrain from confusing others with the use of obscure or misleading words).


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