No, I am not a medical doctor, nor did I stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night. However, over this weekend I did take time to ponder the global pandemic called COVID-19.
Consider this impact: On any other normal third Monday in March, we would be filling out our NCAA basketball tournament brackets. Yes, this past weekend it would have been the conference tournament finals and yesterday would have been Selection Sunday to the “Big Dance.” It is a once in a lifetime experience for many young men and women, and for some, it may never come again.
If there is a vital lesson to be learned from confronting this scourge, this pestilence, it is resolve. Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.” And we all remember the words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”
In my years of service in the U.S. Army, I came to realize that we all do have fears, but we should never take counsel of them--become paralyzed by them. And that is the job of leadership in crisis situations, to instill confidence and quell fears.
We have all read the comparative analysis between the common flu and its yearly effects, and that of the COVID-19. So, what is the difference? It is that unknown, the emergence of something for which we have no explanation, seemingly no solution. The ancient Greeks had the god Phobos, the god of fear, the fear of the unknown. And from that word, we have the condition known as phobia.
There is quite a bit of phobia, fear, hysteria, and in some ways panic over COVID-19. This is where leadership excels. Leadership – true, resolute leadership -- is the calming voice that calls out over a tumultuous sea and commands, “Peace be Still.” It is in times such as these when the people look for that calming voice, measured, reassuring, and caring that inspires, encourages, and reinforces the belief that “it’s gonna be alright.”
History has many an example of such individuals. My favorite is Union Army Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at the Battle of Gettysburg -- the second day, Little Round Top. Chamberlain was not a trained military officer, but rather a professor of rhetoric at Bowdoin College in Maine. He d a call to duty to serve, protect, and defend the Union, as well as to end the union’s scourge, a pestilence called slavery.
On a hot July day, Chamberlain stood at the end of the line of the 90,000-man Army of the Potomac under the command of General George Meade. Chamberlain’s orders were to not surrender or retreat, for he was the end of the line, and the entire Army could be encircled, and defeated. As the day progressed, countless Confederate attacks came against his depleted unit, the 20th Maine Regiment.
As casualties began to mount, the Confederates attempted a flanking maneuver, which Chamberlain recognized. He calmly reorganized, shifted his forces and repulsed the assault, but the Confederates advanced again. Ammunition ran out -- truly, it was a moment for Phobos, hysteria, and panic, but not for this simple, ordinary man from Maine, a professor of rhetoric. Instead of taking counsel to any fears whatsoever, Chamberlain gave an order that had not been heard in the Union Army to date.
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, though suffering from a gunshot wound in his thigh, ordered “Bayonets.” The college professor led a bayonet charge down the hill known as Little Round Top and routed the 20th Alabama Regiment. A college professor saved the day at the Battle of Gettysburg, and possibly saved the Army of the Potomac and America. Chamberlain received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroics. He was the Commander of the Honor unit for the Union at the surrender of the Confederacy at the Appomattox Courthouse. And Chamberlain went on to become a two-term Governor of the State of Maine.
He is my favorite American military hero. That honor is given to him because he represents what is great about our Republic -- an ordinary person who answers the call of service and does extraordinary things.
COVID-19 has descended upon us now as an invisible enemy, but we should not be afraid. We should sit and consider what we must do ourselves to stay healthy and not succumb to the god of fear. We must look to ourselves and loved ones and rally together to face this pestilence, not out of hysteria, but in strong, resolute, confidence. We must look deep inside ourselves and gather our faith to persevere. There was once a very brave and astute American president who challenged us to “Ask not what your Country can do for you but ask what you can do for your Country.”
Yes, there are policy solutions that our country, our government must endeavor to enact. First, they should ensure that our borders are secure and that this virus, and other sicknesses, are not given easy access into our America.
Our government must respond to the dangers of the massive homeless situation in certain urban population centers, where the potential for another pestilence is evident. We need to take care of those who will be heavily affected in their workplace by COVID-19, like those arena workers who will not be hosting the March Madness or sports activities.
We need our government to diversify our supply chains so that we are not so dependent upon any one country, such as China, for basic materials, and needs such as medicine. And we can all look to how we can leverage more information technology to reduce our travel and close-quarters personal interactions.
But most importantly, we need to take individual responsibility for our healthcare. If anything, COVID-19 has taught us that state- or government-controlled healthcare is not a viable solution. It is lethargic and irresponsive to the ever-changing dynamic of medicine and healthcare.
My American Brothers and Sisters, fear not, and as God told Joshua, chapter one, verse nine (NIV), “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Be like Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, be an ordinary America who did an extraordinary thing by not succumbing to fear, hysteria, panic, and paranoia.
(Allen West is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army. During his 22-year career, he served in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, receiving many honors including a Bronze Star. In 2010, West was elected as a member of the 112th Congress representing Florida’s 22nd District. He is a Fox News contributor and author of “Guardian of the Republic: An American Ronin’s Journey to Faith, Family and Freedom” and his latest book from Brown Books Publishing Group, “Hold Texas, Hold the Nation: Victory or Death.” Mr. West writes daily commentary on his personal website theoldschoolpatriot.com and is a Senior Fellow at the Media Research Center to support its mission to expose and neutralize liberal media bias.)