When I was in Vietnam, fighting down in the A Shau Valley, the North Vietnamese Army installed drums along the top edges of the cliff complex up above both sides of the valley, which was less than a quarter of a mile, side to side, at the bottom where I, and my Marine Company, were located. They played those drums, mostly at night, in order to destabilize us. The beats were thumped slowly through the night, and they had the hoped-for effect. The beating of the drums was more than bothersome because it illustrated and made apparent the threat we were all facing, a threat of life or death every day, and every night we spent in that valley. Once again, without there even being a real enemy in this viral “war,” I can hear the drums play at night. The drums play a slow distant thumping beat, but it is the same messaged beat, as was beaten so long ago. The culture can assign an enemy status to the virus, but inanimate, unthinking, and microscopic bits of matter do not make the kind of enemy that can be gone to war with. It’s emotionally unsatisfying to do everything possible and have a curve go down a little bit.

Every morning now, MSNBC is running the identities and short stories about the people dying from the Coronavirus. It is exactly like what was done on television earlier, during the Vietnam War. Maybe one day there will be another “wall” in Washington D.C. where all those who died from the disease will have their names up there in chronological order, like the Vietnam War Vets. Today’s war, if you want to refer to the spread of the virus, or its retreat, as a war, is really more about democrats and the republicans. Strangely, and it is really strange, the combating of the virus has gone political. Democrats, by and large, appear to be in favor of lengthy business and social life shutdowns in order to combat this thing. Republicans seem to be in favor of re-opening the culture in order to “take the hit” from the disease but not take the hit from the devastated economy or social rents opening up around the nation. How did this get political? How did people dying from both the virus and the shut-downs (the dying there, from those closure actions, has barely begun) become a struggle about who is going to be the leader of the country? At what point, how many dead and miserable to be counted, does it simply not matter who the hell is supposedly leading the country when in glaring fact, no single person leads the country and probably never has. Listen carefully tonight, when you are up worrying, which has become the national pastime since sports went away, and maybe you will hear these distant threatening drum beats too. I hope not. I hope you sleep better than me.

The nation shuts down. Although the door is closed and the signs are up, the nation has not achieved full shut down status just yet. The effects of shutting down are what I am writing about here, in some detail. The effects will be both short term and long. In the short term, it will become about paying bills and buying food. It will be about keeping the heat, lights, and water on. It will be about maintaining the Internet, phone, and television services. Those things are going on right now. But, over time, what will be the effect if this shut down extends into the end of May or the beginning of June, or even beyond? Education will take a hit like never before. Many colleges and even universities will not reopen, and those that do will not have enough students to pay the bills. The shock to the system of the citizenry will be too great to allow young people, or old, to bother with the now frivolous-seeming time and money spent on higher education. Businesses will not reopen because of rent they have not paid but will still be owed. Suppliers of those businesses will fail because they will no longer take credit. Cash on a barrelhead is what will be demanded and that barrelhead will soon become an inert empty anvil. Independent gas stations will fail because the price of gas is so low and the incidence of people purchasing it is diminishing at a frightening pace.

Gas sales are down 70% in Wisconsin alone. Attorney operations will fail because accidents and enforcement of the motor vehicle rules are down more than 70% almost everywhere, and most courts not handling capital crime are shuttered for the duration. Civil law has already died almost everywhere. Police ranks will thin, as there becomes little for the police to do. Hospitals will fail because nobody wants to go and there are not nearly enough Coronavirus patients to pay the bills. Nobody today wants to even drive by a hospital, and besides, so many virus-attacked people are poor and don’t have insurance and simply can’t get or afford real care. Real estate sales are in stasis, which means that realtors are without commission and realty offices, as well. The shutdown of America becomes an ever more silent and deadly struggle in endurance. Who has the reserves to see it through? I have listed just a few of the areas that will be impacted as this goes on. There will be many more, and, in fact, the list is pretty much endless.

You see, the nation has depended upon the “flow” of money and not money itself. Like a river’s water driving a huge water wheel or turbine, when the water stops moving so does the turbine…and EVERYTHING the turbine powers stops too.

~James Strauss


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