The Forlorn Hope

Forlorn Hope: A forlorn hope is a band of soldiers or other combatants chosen to take the leading part in a military operation, such as a suicidal assault through the kill zone of a defended position, where the risk of casualties is high. (Wikipedia)

I hear Donald Trump wants to open up the country to business as usual and in order to do so, he is designating the entire population as “warriors.” And by “entire population,” I mean “all of us.” And by “warriors,” I mean that “all of us” will go forth to save his economy for the election.

It is a Forlorn Hope.

I was rather delighted to discover, reading Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe novels, that a forlorn hope, which Sharpe was often called upon to lead, was a real thing. Ostensibly a company formed from volunteers, the survivors would, if successful, be singled out for promotion or a bonus or some kind. Nevertheless, it was generally conceded that death was the most probable outcome.

At this point (May 9, 2020), the national death rate from Covid-19 is .05. Here in Wisconsin, it is .04. What this means is that for every 100 of us nationwide, who storm the walls of the economy in the hopes of breaking it wide open, 5 people will die. Here in Wisconsin, only 4 so far, but still. Only 4 isn’t so “only” to the 4 who succumb.

It's possible that a Trump-whisperer is suggesting that perhaps the other 95 or so volunteers will survive and eventually a “herd immunity” will develop, which is why Trump is now downplaying the importance of testing and finding a safe vaccine. It could even be that the whisperer has a point. After all, humanity has survived other scourges from plague to smallpox to cholera to Spanish flue without the benefit of vaccines. But millions upon millions have also died.

Is that where we are now? Knowing that there is the possibility of an option not available to our ancestors, we are willing to march out at the suggestion of the petty tyrant in the White House to sacrifice ourselves on the altar of some kind of economy?

Or might some of us perhaps reinvent economies of scale, economies of community, economies of sense and sensibility? Might our government at some point, say in a few months’ time, understand that health care, food, water, and housing have become human rights in a way that they have not been before, and that any kind of sustainable economy is dependent on that understanding?

Can we find a way to open cautiously with new procedures including testing and tracking? Can we find the patience to wait for a vaccine to provide herd immunity? Or must we all rush out of our houses on a Monday morning, wondering which four of every hundred or so others we meet are doomed to die today?

The Forlorn Hope was never comprised of the entire army. It was only a few brave souls committed to breach the wall or die trying. You could say they were on the front lines, some working to save those they can, others working to find a way to save others, all of them working to defeat the thing intent on killing them.

Four or five percent of my fellow citizens do not need to sacrifice themselves for my benefit. I can wear a mask and wash my hands with the best of them. We’ve already got fighters scaling the wall of this virus intent on taking it down. They are our warriors. They are our real hope. They are the Richard Sharpe’s of this army, the ones most likely to bring it off.

Nobody needs to volunteer for Trump’s nation of warriors. We are not yet so far gone as to rush ahead into a nation-wide Forlorn Hope.