Body counts and broken dreams

During the Vietnam War, the primary news was daily body counts. While the consensus was that was no way to cover a war, nobody thought of anything better. As for the collateral damage in wounded and broken men, mostly forgotten along with their equally broken families, we’re still living with it forty-five years later.

During the COVID-19 invasion, the news has also provided daily body counts, primarily cases, and death tolls. Once again, these figures didn’t tell us much about the pandemic, except that it got better, and then it got worse. As for the collateral damage of grieving survivors, a shattered health care system, lost jobs, bankrupted businesses, and related and unrelated social unrest and violence, we can say with a fair matter of certainty the pandemic has broken just about everything.

There are now rays of hope as a second vaccine is set to begin distribution tomorrow and Congress, in its typical dinosaur fashion, races deadlines to get a new stimulus package approved. So now the wait begins: how long will it take for the vaccines to make a dent in the deluge of body counts and broken dreams?

No matter what happens, we can count on dealing with the repercussions of COVID for the rest of our lives. The 45-year Vietnam fallout will be long forgotten before the door will finally be closed on the long term pandemic impacts.

In general, I’m an optimist in spite of my bouts of cynicism, so I’m going to hold onto my dream of a healthy, unified United States that provides opportunities for everyone. But we will need to pitch in and work at it. I hope we’re willing to do that.



The cheapness of human life in black ops novels

Surprisingly, black ops novels give me a sense of closure in a world where’s little closure. Another pacifist friend and I discovered that we both watched the TV show “24” because, while “real life” often made us feel powerless in the face of all the issues with seemingly no answers or bad answers, Jack Bauer’s actions on the show brought us a feeling that sometimes bad guys are caught and threats are neutralized.

I feel the same way when I’m reading “Tom Clancy,” James Patterson, and other series in which the good guys see a threat, analyze it, and then put a stop to it. Like Jack Bauer, these good guys operate in groups that are out from under any umbrella of legalities that (as they say) “hampers” black ops.

What bothers me, though, is how cheap life seems to be in these books. If you watched “24” you know there were car chases in which dozens of vehicles (driven by every day innocent people) were shown blowing up, turning over, falling off bridges, etc. in the background. Any police force conducting that kind of chase in “real life” would be on the carpet in minutes. But it “24” those people are collateral damage and (apparently) not so bad a price to play for Bauer catching a notorious bad guy.

While black ops novels seldom have those signature car chases that have been popular in the James Bond movies, a lot of cardboard characters always get blown away with little notice or regret en route to “a more-important goal.”

I’m sure ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups see mass numbers of civilian casualties as a sign of success.  Fortunately, the good guys in over-the-top novels, movies, and TV shows aren’t trying to create massive civilian casualties. In fact, in these stories, most of the cardboard characters killed are bad guys with no names who stepped ou from behind a building with blazing Kalashnikovs and got taken out by the good guys. No harm, no foul, right?

Perhaps bad guys and good guys really feel this way in “real life,” and by that I mean, operations that fall into the category of black ops rather than war.  If so, this bothers me more than the deaths in fiction; with fiction, I have plausible deniability since I know none of those deaths really happened.

In “real life,” I’m against black ops, but that doesn’t mean that novels about black ops aren’t serving as addictive painkillers against the insanity of the world.


Malcolm R.. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” “Lena,” “Special Investigative Reporter,” and “Sarabande.”