David R. Irvine: We are no longer the America we believe ourselves to be

We used to be able to win wars and build highways. Now we can’t get shots or wear masks.

Face coverings on the statues of former US President Franklyn D. Roosevelt, left, and former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Mayfair, London, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, as the third national lockdown, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, continues. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

Sadly, there are no California beaches in Utah, but here are two ironically related books for your Independence Day getaway.

“The Splendid and the Vile,” by Erik Larson is a trip through London in 1940-41 through the eyes of Winston Churchill and some of his family and staff. I thought I knew a good deal about all of that, but it turns out there’s lots more.

Perhaps I was more attuned to death statistics because of COVID, but during the Blitz months from September 1940 through May 1941, 29,000 Londoners were killed and 28,500 were seriously injured. The damage to the city was staggering. To one observer, the final attack on May 10, 1941, left London aflame “from horizon to horizon.” The last raid left 12,000 Londoners homeless.

That was also the day that Rudolph Hess parachuted onto Scottish soil. Willy Messerschmitt had allowed Hess the use of an advanced fighter airplane. Hermann Göring later asked Messerschmidt “how he could possibly have let an individual as obviously insane as Hess to have an airplane?” The response was, “How am I supposed to believe that a lunatic can hold such a high office in the Third Reich?”

The book provoked thoughts of New York City which, since Feb. 29, 2020, suffered 952,004 confirmed and probable cases of COVID. The confirmed and probable death toll was 33,331. Nationally, we’ve seen 33.4 million cases and 600,000 deaths.

Even though highly effective vaccines are available free of charge, a third of us declare they’ll refuse the shots. Masks provoke outrage as assaults on liberty. Utah’s vaccination status is at 40%; Vermont’s is twice that. And yet we hold to an unshakeable belief in American and Utah exceptionalism.

Too many don’t have a common commitment to any value beyond what’s in it for me. Not even if we could save hundreds of thousands of lives, and just maybe our own, by getting a free shot. A friend told Churchill that the best thing he had done was to give people courage. Churchill replied, “I never gave them courage; I was able to focus theirs.”

The second fine beach read is “2034” by Admiral James Stavridis and Elliot Ackerman. The authors have impressive national strategy chops. Stavridis earned a Ph.D. in international relations and was the first U.S. naval officer to serve as Europe’s Supreme Allied Commander. Ackerman served five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine and holds an M.A. in international relations.

The book is the authors’ vision of World War III, and it’s a short war. What makes the book compelling is its plausibility given events and policies of our 21st century. The best line in the book is this: “The America that we believe ourselves to be is no longer the America that we are.”

Once upon a time, we could do big stuff: a railroad across the continent, a canal through Panama, gigantic bridges and tunnels, an interstate highway system, and we had a Supreme Court that could agree that voting rights were important enough that every person’s vote should carry the same power no matter where they live.

In 2021, we can’t even agree that every eligible voter should be entitled to roadblock-free voting, or that a Democratic victory is possible without election fraud. We have allowed ourselves to be persuaded that it’s essential for a minority of senators to have veto power over whatever they choose to oppose. American democracy: strangled by inaction.

Stavridis quotes Lincoln’s 1838 Springfield Lyceum speech: “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

Lincoln knew nothing of ICBMs, but he nailed the challenge of our grand experiment.

“2034” is a tale spun of real war threats, which require the skills and careful analyses of serious political leaders. Far too often, the people we send to do that hard work prefer the easy distractions of stoking culture wars and bilking profit from the gullible.

Our biggest problem is apathy, but who cares?

david irvine

David Irvine is a Salt Lake City attorney and a retired Army strategic intelligence officer.