Our Uneven Attack Against Covid-19

Any unbiased, non-epidemiologist person might come to the same conclusion I have: We’ve not done enough on some fronts to combat Covid-19; we’ve gone overboard with very marginal rules on other fronts; and not given enough attention to middle-road tactics which science and common sense say might tamp down this pandemic.

I appreciate that we don’t know everything yet about this new coronavirus. We’re still flying blind on things like acquired immunity, reliability of tests and the potential for an early vaccine.

But meanwhile, we should be doing more of what we know and less when it’s just guesswork.

Mandatory acceptable-type masks to keep coughs and sneezes to ourselves. Mandatory social distancing so whatever escapes our mouths and noses doesn’t land on somebody else.

Then there’s the great plan Kauai is implementing. Before you’re allowed on a plane to Hawaii you take one test. When you arrive here you go into mandatory 6-days of quarantine at a special quarantine hotel supervised by the county and paid for by the visitor. While you’re there, a second test because some tests give false negatives.

The rest of Hawaii hasn’t done this. It shied away from possible lawsuits about the mandatory testing. If we never did anything over which somebody might sue we’d never do anything! And we let visitors say “oh, sure, I’ll do voluntary quarantine” and then next day head out for some shopping and the beach. We could have impounded an airport hotel and enforced that 14-day stay on the visitor’s dime.

It was irresponsible to exempt all military people and their families without the state knowing exactly what surveillance they’d get by the service commanders.

Then there’s the overkill. McDonald’s Kahala (and maybe others) makes you come in one door and exit another. You don’t get Covid passing another masked person in a wide doorway. The Kaimuki YMCA (and maybe others) went overboard. Arrows tell you which direction to walk to use exercise machines. You come in the front door but leave by going all the way to the rear, outside by the pool, and then back down the parking lot to your car (or my moped). You don’t get Covid exiting by the nearest wide door.

And a bottle of disinfectant you use to wipe down an exercise machine can’t be used by anybody else until it is disinfected! The pool can’t be used until the lifeguard disinfects the aluminum rail people may touch as they use the steps into the water.

There’s no common sense in play, just guidelines from some parent organization that’s getting little guidance by the state or city. That’s the explanation I got.

Meanwhile, I still see cars packed with young people, all unmasked, going to some beach or park. Large gatherings of family and friends. Construction workmen and women at very close quarters and who, of course, wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a mask!

And now the bars are open and we all know how responsible barflies are.

And now Gov. Age is under pressure to re-open us to tourism because the retail shops, high-end restaurants and hotels are dying financially. He’ll say yes because he’s not going to doom the jobs of maybe 200,000 or even 250,000 people who depend on tourism.

We only have America’s lowest per 100,000 Covid infection rate because you can’t hop in your car and come here. The airport and airplane hassle (and infection danger) put most people off. But not if we say “We’re open for business. We’re the lowest infection rate. Come on out.” Not if the airlines offer cut-rate fares and the hotels cut-rate rooms.

I’d prefer we accepted a little more pain and created an infection-free “bubble” like New Zealand and Australia. Their initial pain was terrible but now they’ll host each other’s tourists. It helped that Australia’s states could legally close their borders and airports to all persons from other states with substantial infection rates. They don’t have the right of travel we put in the Articles of Confederation and then with these words in the 14th Amendment: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”

Getting Out Of Vietnam

As I look over my journalism career, some things stick out because they righted a wrong or helped somebody or some group.

I wrote the story that got Maj. Gen. Edwin Walker fired from his 24th Division command in Germany because he steered the voting of his soldiers to favor conservative Republicans.

I did the 1963 story about Honolulu Scientology practicing psychological counseling on their many gullible “patients.” The Legislature passed a law requiring licensing for such therapy.

I wrote about the grim conditions at the old Palolo Chinese Home. It embarrassed the Chinese community into fundraising for a new, modern facility.

And then I started taking local, elderly Nisei soldiers back to Italy to visit the WWII battlefields where they fought and so many comrades died.

But maybe the event I’m most proud to have participated in was getting Nguyen Oanh, his wife and three of their children out of Vietnam after that war.

Nguyen Oanh ran a Saigon shop that sold art works and souvenirs, mainly to American GIs and civilians. He rented an upstairs room to my now-wife, Denby Fawcett, when she was a wartime reporter for the Honolulu Advertiser.

When the war ended, Nguyen Oanh didn’t want to live under the communist government. Three sons were smuggled out as boat people at considerable cost. Nguyen applied for the Orderly Departure Program for the rest of the family. An American team from Bangkok came to Saigon regularly to interview people for clearance to migrate to the U.S. But Nguyen’s number was never called by the new Vietnam government. I suspect he was being punished as a “bad” guy who had fled North Vietnam when the communists took over Hanoi from France in 1954 and whose three boys had surreptitiously fled the country. 

Nguyen Oanh and his wife in their Saigon home.

I had come back to Saigon about a dozen years after the war to do a TV documentary. I went to Nguyen’s house but he shooed me away, said he was under surveillance, and asked me to come back at 5 a.m. when it was dark. I did. He cracked the door, let me slip in, and told me his non-departure story. He was desperate to get out. Communist soldiers lived in his upstairs rooms.

I’d met the head of the American Orderly Departure team (the Hanoi government had agreed to that program to let the unhappy decamp), so I wrote him, told him Nguyen’s story and gave him Nguyen’s Orderly Departure file number. He asked the Saigon government “why hasn’t this number ever been called?”

The next month, it was called. The Nguyens were accepted, and flown to live with sons established in Westminster, Calif. The senior Nguyens lived out their lives there. My wife and I maintain contact with two of the three sons who were boat people. Bryan Nguyen is an executive at a credit union in California and Paul Nguyen is a retired hospital pharmacist in Texas.

Maybe it’s not an earth-shaking event but it gives me a good feeling when I think back on it.

That’s generally the best we can ask for ourselves.


Obliterating History

Pulling down or damaging historic statues troubles me. I’ve no qualms about re-writing history as we learn new facts, but the statues are our artistic history, too —  like a painting. It’s sculpture of the period in which it was done.

Do we destroy a Ruebens painting because it shames fat women, or a Delacroix because it glorifies war?

In China, when people fell out with Mao Tse-tung they were daubed out of paintings and became odd blobs of new oil paint. Before the digital age,  they were surgically removed from photographs. A fellow riding alongside Mao on a horse was no longer there. The old photograph was forbidden to be displayed.

American troops toppled statues of Saddam Hussein of Iraq and the successor government executed the real man and made sure no sign of him would survive his hanging. Iraqi sculptor Khaliz Ezzat did that statue. Modernist sculptor Bassem al-Dawiri did a quickie abstract called “Freedom” of painted plaster as a replacement. It’s been removed now as “not good art.”

An American GI preps the Saddam statute for demolition
The “art work” which replaced the Saddam statue

The four presidents of Mount Rushmore probably are lucky to be in stone on a cliff, hard to deface. George Washington owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson thought blacks too ignorant to vote. Teddy Roosevelt wanted us to acquire Cuba, the Philippines and anything else in the Pacific our troops could get their hands on. Only Abe Lincoln seems to get a pass, in spite of coming very late in the war with the Emancipation Proclamation.

Hafez al-Assad, former Syrian president, had a shoe stuffed in his sculpted bronze-head mouth after he died but he had the last laugh because his son Bashar took over and was worse as a dictator.

Taking down Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is really bad juju. Lee was an honorable man who believed the South was getting short-changed by the North. Remember that both sides had slaves, so he wasn’t an outlier on that issue. It was also a war about state’s rights and the South’s poor agricultural exports vis-a-vis the North’s powerful manufacturing. After the war, Lee was a magnificent college president.

The Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Va.

It is important for all Americans to learn the true, unfiltered past of our country, and I understand those who feel there is a difference between learning our history and celebrating our history. 

They ask: Should Americans, especially African-Americans, pay taxes for the maintenance of statutes on public grounds that are symbols of white privilege?

You don’t see statues of Hitler in Germany. 

But there’s that slippery slope. Might we have eventual removal of all of the Founding Fathers who owned slaves? Remove the graveyards of Confederate soldiers or those who fought and sometimes killed innocent people in Vietnam?

I guess we could temporarily remove and store statues that are momentarily sensitive in the public mind.

But whatever, we’d be blotting out important perspectives of our past. Informed citizens can use the statues as reminders to learn the positive and negative of our history.  Would any Hawaii protestors, for example, tear down the statue of Robert Wilcox? He planned an aborted coup to oust King Kalakaua and install Liliuokalani as queen and then led a short shooting war against the Republic of Hawaii under Sanford Dole. Doesn’t that qualify for the Robert E. Lee statue treatment?

Robert Wilcox

We should not erase any reminders of our history. One historian asks “What is next? The demolition of Monticello or the dismantling of the St. Louis Gateway Arch, officially listed as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Should we change the name St. Louis because Louis IX forced the Jewish people out of France in the thirteenth century?”

Last week, that city did remove the statue of Columbus.

We cannot change the past. Nor should we cherry pick stories to create an inoffensive narrative. By destroying elements of our nation’s history, we are depriving the future generations of the opportunity to learn from society’s mistakes.


Into The Wild, Blue Yonder…

I’m not surprised that the U.S. Air Force has picked a black general to be its next Chief of Staff, or a Hawaii-native chief master sergeant as the first female top enlisted person.

I was in the Air Force in the late 50s and it always was a step ahead of the Army, Navy and Marines in doing things the other didn’t. More like the Coast Guard.

We had very racially mixed squadrons. We weren’t big on saluting. I was told that’s because a pilot who depends on an enlisted person to keep his plane in flying condition doesn’t want that person to have any inferiority grievances.

In basic training, we only did “dry firing” of the .30 caliber carbine from the prone position on the floor of our barracks. Nobody inspected our beds for tight sheets or foot lockers for neatness. If we didn’t want to do phy-ed we could roller skate at the Lackland base rollerdome, which was owned by the base commander.

We didn’t have many women yet. In fact, I never saw even one in my 501st Tactical Air Wing in Germany or my tech school in Biloxi, Miss..

Now JoAnne Bass of Mililani is the Chief Master Sergeant of our entire Air Force. The person who advises the top general on matters affecting enlisted people.

I never got beyond airman first class. You couldn’t make sergeant those days unless you had four years in service. I only did three.

My first assignment was in the U-2 spy plane radar-following team at Giebelstadt Air Base in Germany. That’s now an Army airfield and the hangar below was where we housed the super-secret U-2 with civilian armed guards.

From there, I moved to what was called a “Miscue” (MSQ-1) site in a farmer’s field in Mausdorf, Germany. F-100 jets had no satellite GPS in those days. So if war with the Soviets in East Germany broke out, we would direct the pilots via radar light-box signals  to his target with either conventional or nuclear bombs.

And finally a headquarters job at Ramstein AB, each morning logging in which places in East Germany got priority for a nuking if the balloon went up. I always felt bad for all the villagers who would die because their homes were near a Soviet tank encampment.

But we Air Forcers always ate well, had great living quarters with individual rooms, and very little of what’s termed the “chicken shit” regulations of military life.

We also were allowed to stay out beyond the Army’s curfew hour in nearby Nuremberg and Erlangen — which didn’t make the Army boys or Army MPs happy.

The Air Force always knew how to take care of its people.


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