Kenneth Lougee: Fighting the pandemic is a ‘supreme and noble duty’

There is no excuse for avoiding the duty to fight the pandemic.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Nurse Sue Day administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a University of Utah student in Salt Lake City on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021.

The town of Dubois, Idaho, is wasting away to the extent that they have stopped watering the cemetery. But if one goes there she will find, in the dust, the military marker of my great-uncle, John Taylor Clegg. John was killed in action in October, 1918.

John loved dryland farming and riding his motorcycle. He had been drafted into the Army and paid for it with his life. He didn’t want to go into the Army, but he did his duty. Likewise, my grandfather Lougee was drafted in World War I. He was wounded in the Argonne Forest. He loved the Bear Lake farm and did not want to go into the Army. He also went and served.

My friend Ken Demas grew up on a produce farm located on South State Street. He graduated from Jordan High School in 1944. The week after graduation he received a notice from the United States government telling him of his draft call-up. Ken didn’t want to go into the Army, but he went.

After serving in the Pacific and the occupation of Japan, Ken returned home to get on with his life. The North Koreans had other ideas for Ken. In 1950, the Army called him back into service for the Korean Conflict. Ken didn’t want to go, but he went.

The Supreme Court of the United State in 1918 referred to involuntary national service as a “supreme and noble duty.” I’m certain my family and friends viewed involuntary service to their country as a duty, not to be avoided.

In 1918, there were objections to national service primarily on religious grounds. The objectors were not excused from national service. On March 21, 1918, The Salt Lake Tribune published an article entitled “Place Planned for Drafter Objectors,” which included the following:

“Each such objector is to be given the benefit of a full explanation of the law by a ‘tactful and considerate’ officer and so far as possible will be given the choice of a wide range of activities, including almost everything except actual fighting.

“The Army was authorized to confine in disciplinary barracks any person who refused to comply with the draft laws. Objectors who had no preference could be assigned to the medical corps, quartermaster department or engineering work on wharves, docks or supply depots.”

What does this have to do with us today? We are faced with a pandemic which has taken the dimensions of a war. It has killed more people than all United States’ combat deaths in all wars combined. The virus has killed more people on numerous days than those who lost their lives in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Fortunately, we have those who do their duty. My son James is a registered nurse working in a dementia unit. He knows the danger but refuses to leave. Given a choice, I’m certain that he would avoid danger to himself. He stayed.

We have vaccine refusers who, in the name of freedom, will not voluntarily protect themselves and their neighbors. It is true, but probably not significant to vaccine refusers, that the government exposed Ken Demos, my grandfather, and my great uncle to the dangers of death and dismemberment. None of them wanted to go.

But, according to a large number of our fellow citizens, vaccine refusal in a time of crisis is deemed a violation of freedom.

We hear of religious pastors who sell religious exemptions to avoid the vaccine. This is nothing more than connivance at avoiding one’s duty. We hear of objectors who claim that the vaccines which have been administered to hundreds of millions of individuals are unsafe. But, mostly, the claim is freedom.

A Utah legislator suggests that stores and employers who require vaccines should be financially liable for any harm caused by taking the vaccine. The federal government has established a vaccine court for individuals who may be harmed by taking a vaccine. This is just one more excuse for avoiding duty.

One does not avoid duty by merely opting out of vaccine. Just like 1918, there are other ways an objector might serve. We don’t need work on public works. But we do need regular testing, contract tracing and quarantines of those who refuse vaccination.

Even if a person does not wish to be vaccinated, there is no reason to allow her to avoid duty to control this pernicious virus.

Ken Lougee

Kenneth Lougee lives in Sandy with his wife, Jan. He practices law and occasionally writes about the United States in the early 20th century. He is the author of “Pie in the Sky: How Joe Hill’s Lawyers Lost His Case, Got Him Shot and Were Disbarred.”

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