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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One Reply to “The New Citizen Soldier”

  1. Very well written analogy. Totally agree with Michael.

    PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Rocko (author) and Michael (editor) thank you for these kind words.

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