How the Spartans Would Fight COVID-19

A (true) question from antiquity:

Why do the Spartans punish with a fine a warrior who loses his helmet or breastplate in combat but punish with death the man who discards his shield?

” … for the protection of the whole line.”

The true answer, from Plutarch:

Because helmet and breastplate are worn to protect the individual alone but the shield is borne to protect the whole line.

In ancient phalanx-type warfare, the formation advanced upon the enemy with shields overlapping, so that one warrior’s shield protected himself and, partially, the man next to him. The aim was to present to the foe an unbroken, impregnable front of armor.

The enemy’s objective of course was to break through this front, to create a breach into which his forces could flow. One failed shield and the whole army could be lost.

Now a question from the war you and I are fighting today:

Why are we asked to wear surgical or face masks in public, to practice social distancing, and to observe self-quarantining?

Answer:

Because these practices are not for the individual alone but for the protection of the whole line.

In recent days we’ve seen protesters in Michigan and other states demonstrating their resistance to such public health directives. They carry signs saying I WILL NOT COMPLY and DON’T TREAD ON ME. The demonstrators take offense at such communal safety measures, characterizing them as “government overreach.” They declare that such mandates violate their personal freedom.

Two more questions:

Would we accuse the ancient Spartans of “government overreach” if they mandated that each warrior, facing the enemy, hold his shield before him and not abandon it and run away?

Suppose one warrior did cast away his shield and flee, thus opening a breach in the phalanx’s front? Would the Spartans excuse him if he explained that he took such action as an exercise of his “personal freedom?”

Steven Pressfield is the author of “Gates of Fire,” a novel about the 300 Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae. In 2006 he was made an honorary citizen of the city of Sparta in Greece.

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72 Comments

  1. Juan Manuel on April 22, 2020 at 5:35 am

    Nice post for the sake of narrative, but the premise is not right. Virus are not “caught” by bad luck and then we suffer. We are surrounded always by millions of potentially more deadly virus than the Corona virus but we survive, if our milieu (the inmune system) is strong. Medical establishment has spread this lie to instill fear to control us. This is a very graphic example we are going through now. Better to protect the weak elderly and go on with normal life than to cause so much suffering to kids, the elderly proper (taking resources elsewhere and leaving them unprotected) and the economy.

    • Joe Jansen on April 22, 2020 at 6:27 am

      Juan, I appreciate hearing your perspective. I agree with some of your observations (and others which I don’t). But I’d offer a couple things to support where we are in agreement.

      I’m understanding the premise of Steve’s piece as “valuing the communal good over the individual’s tendency to act only for one’s own well-being.” We can take this metaphor of the Spartan phalanx a step further, I think. Surely, “wearing a mask” can equate to “carrying the hoplon” (each serves not to protect one’s self, but to protect the other.

      I like your point about “OUR” immune system. We can see how “our collective immune system” is an extension of the metaphor of the phalanx. If we work collectively to strengthen the health (immunity) of all, we have the opportunity to live in harmony with this earth from which we emerged — and not be at war with it.

      I read this fine piece today, by Dr. James Hamblin, which speaks to some of the ideas we’re discussing here.

      https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/04/coronavirus-immune-response/610228/

      • Elise Allan on April 22, 2020 at 8:37 am

        Excellent article, thanks, Joe. Living in Europe, I feel closer to what’s been happening in Italy and Spain – and impatient that my government is still not recommending the use of masks. I wear one anyway when I’m out – I have hayfever, and at the very least, my mask might catch a sneeze when I’m in the supermarket. Out and about I see people who are watching out for me, as part of the community, as well as those who are not – a group of young men sharing a joint, and older men pushing past me in the Supermarket rather than social distancing. Here, our health service treats everyone, thank goodness. And I hear that, since lock down, the homeless have been housed. It’s not great here, but I read of what’s happening in the USA and you have my sympathy.

        • Joe on April 22, 2020 at 9:21 am

          Glad to know you’re well, Elise. Hope we can wake up to how we’re all related.

      • Anonymous on April 26, 2020 at 12:19 pm

        Here is data on coronavirus’s actual toll —

        https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/coronavirus-deaths-united-states-each-day-2020-n1177936

        Already a disaster for which we weren’t prepared ( inadequate numbers of ventilators, ICU capacity, etc ), and exponential growth of infections and death would have been prolonged without shelter-in-place. If we return to “normal” life prematurely, we’ll have another spike and prolong the disaster ( because the virus is highly transmissible, cases grow exponentially, etc ).

        Now, show us data about the toll from the “millions of potentially more deadly viruses” that suggests that coronavirus is no different and we don’t have to take extraordinary measures to address it.

    • Anonymous on April 22, 2020 at 9:54 am

      Weak, illogical and warped thinking. You are a conspiracy theorist and no doubt a Trumper. You and those like you are dangerous, selfish, and just plain uninformed.

      • Christopherus on April 22, 2020 at 10:10 am

        Interesting. One side offers critical thinking, adherence to a value system, and engages in constructive debate. The other side calls you names…

      • Diane Dreher on April 22, 2020 at 11:58 pm

        I find Steve’s piece illuminating and right on target. Our individual actions affect those around us and together, like the Spartan soldiers with their shields, we are stronger.

      • bill on April 23, 2020 at 11:01 am

        You don’t have the stones to put your name on your statement. Who is the weak one?

      • David Pancost on June 14, 2020 at 7:08 pm

        I love how this person rants about those of us who resist government overreach (and yes that what it is). Isn’t even brave enough to give us his name. Posts as anonymous. Coward.

    • Tess on April 22, 2020 at 11:31 am

      Juan – If only it were as simple as refusing to get into the pool which has a peeing section – to use an analogy put forward by a doctor recently. Keeping the weak and the vulnerable safe would be easy. Don’t get in the pool! But then there’s the overcrowding of the hospitals due to more people contracting the virus. I personally have had four (three possibly important) hospital appointments cancelled, as have several friends – including one with advanced aggressive breast cancer. This is to protect *us*. I personally know four people who died of Covid-19 in the past week. Two of them were old. One was not. None of them expendable. And I know of two who are very much struggling with the after-effects – possibly for the rest of their lives. In my entire 64 years on this earth I have never known one single soul who died from flu or even pneumonia. Until we have immunity to this particular disease (as we do to many other ‘potentially more deadly’ viruses), flattening the cure to take the pressure of the hospitals makes absolute sense. Nurses and doctors who are daily risking their lives for us are not “the medical establishment”. They are real people on the front lines. If everyone who wanted to throw caution to the wind was also willing to sign a waiver saying they would not clog up hospital beds and ICUs, I’d be all for it! I doubt very much they are.

      • Trudy Russell on June 14, 2020 at 6:11 pm

        Your comment is compassionate and conscientious. But I have to tell you that most likely your appointments were canceled because the doctors or other staff have either chosen or been told not to return to normal duty out of fear. I live in a university town where my husband is a physician in the hospital that is huge and serves much of the state, and we have not been “clogged.” In fact, the hospital has been under-worked during the Covid crisis.

    • Anonymous on April 26, 2020 at 11:43 am

      Why is the Medical Establisment trying to control us? What are you saying their agenda is? To get people to stay inside and tank the economy?

    • Anonymous on April 26, 2020 at 12:20 pm

      Here is data on coronavirus’s actual toll —

      https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/coronavirus-deaths-united-states-each-day-2020-n1177936

      Already a disaster for which we weren’t prepared ( inadequate numbers of ventilators, ICU capacity, etc ), and exponential growth of infections and death would have been prolonged without shelter-in-place. If we return to “normal” life prematurely, we’ll have another spike and prolong the disaster ( because the virus is highly transmissible, cases grow exponentially, etc ).

      Now, show us data about the toll from the “millions of potentially more deadly viruses” that suggests that coronavirus is no different and we don’t have to take extraordinary measures to address it.

    • Anonymous on June 14, 2020 at 9:14 pm

      Well said

    • Daniel Ochirosi on June 14, 2020 at 10:32 pm

      Sir, you are a moron!

    • Anonymous on June 18, 2020 at 11:49 pm

      Mate… you’re no young puppy. I already don’t agree with your philosophy, but I definitely suggest you play it safe. Just a thought.

  2. Joe Jansen on April 22, 2020 at 6:42 am

    The phalanx is an apt metaphor, which extends to other levels beyond “wearing a mask to protect the person by your side” (noted above re “our collective immune system is also a phalanx that protects us all”).

    I’m again appreciating how an idea can reverberate, like Steve ringing a gong and the sound seems to echo from different directions, the windows and chandeliers resonating with the same tone.

    I came across this recent conversation between James Corden and historian/philosopher Yuval Noah Harari (Sapiens, Homo Deus, etc), where they’re discussing this pandemic’s potential impacts on humankind. At about 11:30, Harari reflects on the effectiveness of response by different national entities. He says:

    “Greece is doing an amazing job in containing this epidemic. If I had to choose between, say Greece and the United States, who should be leading the world now, giving us a plan of action, I would definitely choose Greece.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRRhvwkV7L0

    Perhaps some of the Spartan ethos of the phalanx does indeed remain in Hellas.

    • Brian Nelson on April 22, 2020 at 7:30 am

      Joe!
      I always look forward to your posts. Do you know if that interview is in a podcast format? I just hate watching YouTube–too antsy–I want to move around as I listen…and YouTube doesn’t allow my to open another app while listening to it on my phone.

      Without listening to the link yet–my thought goes all the way back to Don Rumsfeld when answering a question about the looting of the Iraqi museums. “…freedom is messy…”

      He was absolutely castigated by the press, maybe rightfully so–but he was also 100% correct. I lived in Germany for 3 years as a young man. Those guys follow the rules! It is so clean, so orderly. I was in downtown Frankfurt, with nary a car in sight–but a red hand forbidding the crossing of the street. Those Germans just stood on the corner like sheep.

      Whenever you saw someone jay-walking–you could be 100% certain they were wearing 501 jeans, a ballcap, a can of Copenhagen in his back pocket…he was an American Soldier. We don’t follow the rules. That Strategic Corporal, also the Ugly American comes from the culture that threw off the tyranny of Great Britain, saved the world from Nazism, put a man on the moon, created Hollywood, spawned Silicon Valley–it all comes from the same recipe, the same soup.

      I have never thought of Greece as an orderly place (will listen to the talk soon), but when we see how Taiwan, South Korea, Germany, or Japan have handled this pandemic–we might be able to learn from them for the next pandemic–but it is not in our DNA to listen/obey/follow the rules. We may likely pay a very heavy price for this, but can we really expect people to stay at home for 2 months?

      How many people have the bandwidth to think of ‘the big picture’ when three kids are screaming at home, all the money has dried up, husband and wife begin to fight and blame each other–because the fear of losing everything is so real–and we judge them for wanting to get out of the house to make a living? How many of our fellow Americans have 3-6 months of savings in a liquid savings account? 5% How many of the service industry that we have ignored as they put vanilla in our latte, or made us a sandwich–and are a single parent –and now penniless? How can we possibly understand that kind of pressure? 22 million unemployed–and it is likely only the beginning.

      Freedom is messy. It is also what makes our country the light of the world. Maybe the bigger question is what do we learn from this? Maybe we don’t need 12 pairs of pants, 40 shirts, 7 screens, 4 cars all made overseas.

      Another artist,Chuck Palahniuk, predicted this back in 1996 with Fight Club. Maybe our rampant consumerism isn’t the best way forward. Maybe our TVs should cost $1000 and we buy one–but we pay that latte pouring guy $30/hour to make it here.

      I surely don’t know, but I think we may pay the price for a culture that has put distraction ahead of compassion.
      bsn

      • Joe on April 22, 2020 at 8:56 am

        Likewise, enjoy your posts, Brian.

        The Corden/Harari conversation was a video from his television show, so I don’t think it’s in podcast form.

        Lots of thoughts up there, and I don’t want to go too long. There’s enough here to warrant an entire evening around a campfire.

        Certainly, the tension between “individual freedoms” and “communal good” is perennial. Hamblin’s Atlantic article (linked in Juan’s post) refers to hotel rooms going empty while people sleep in parking lots (“those rooms were made for somebody to PAY to sleep in them; I’m not just GIVING them away!”), milk being dumped and crops plowed under while people wait in mile-long lines for food handouts (“it’s cheaper to dump/plow under”). Where is the greater virtue? One’s right to earn a profit on hotel rooms versus another’s chance to shelter her family? I don’t have an answer, but just positing the question.

        I’m not sure we can just throw up our hands and say “it is not in our DNA to listen/obey/follow the rules.” Virtuous and trustworthy leadership can set a vision and give hope and lead people forward. It’s less “obeying orders” as it is “I see your vision and I believe in you and I will follow you.”

      • Dave Dalton on April 22, 2020 at 9:07 am

        I think your response was balanced. How many people like to hear the “balance” of their perspective… not many… because it feels like retreat… like we are losing. The fact is, the truth usually likes in the tension somewhere… and I think you found it. Very well written Brian… and thought out. Thanks.

      • NovaHammer on April 22, 2020 at 8:14 pm

        The Soviets saved the west from Nazism… just say’n.

        • Brian Nelson on April 23, 2020 at 8:40 pm

          NovaHammer,
          Cool name. You make a good point. They certainly took the vast majority of the casualties. I doubt their manufacturing would have turned the tide. Or their leadership. But, as a former Russian intelligence analyst–I’m pretty damn biased. It is hard for me to give them credit for anything positive.
          bsn

  3. Brian Nelson on April 22, 2020 at 7:00 am

    Dear Steve,
    As soon as I read the Title of today’s blog, I knew exactly what you were going to say. I live in just outside of Tacoma, WA–35 miles from the first outbreak on the West Coast, Ground Zero if you will. I was fortunate enough to have heard/read of the outbreak in Wuhan in Jan–and maybe because of a career as an Intelligence Officer and a penchant for reading (A.G. Riddle’s Pandemic series), I might have been more sensitive to the threat.

    I stopped going to the YMCA the 2nd week in February. Two reasons: 1. My wife is an absolute germ warrior, and her greatest value is protection and safety. When I talked about what could happen–she pretty well mandated we begin social distancing before we ever heard those two words combined. Our YMCA is HUGE. 170,000 members over 9 branches. Clean, beautiful buildings, terrific staff. It is. model for what our communities can be at our best.
    The downtown branch is the ‘adult Y’, and it serves the business community. All of the big shots are there. And yet, at around 0830/0900–the Y opens its doors to the homeless. I’ve often been struck dumb by the paradox of one of the wealthiest gentleman in our city standing naked (we only got privacy doors in the past few years–the showers were wide open spigots previously) under the water, next to another man who literally smells like stale feces, a mix of gin & cheap wine, and cigarettes–both taking a shower. It has always made me feel great about spending my membership fees. (…When I was hungry, you fed Me..naked, you clothed Me…even the least of them…)

    So, when we saw the outbreak in Kirkland–my initial reason for not going to the Y was because I knew the homeless would be disease carrying agents. It was self-protection. It was fear–a bit of self-righteousness mixed in there for good measure.

    The Lakewood Y, where I actually live, is a family Y. My evening ritual is (was) to go workout again, but really my intent was to sit in the sauna. We have a large Slavic immigrant population here, and I am able to practice my Russian. In fact, in this small sauna, I have counted 6 languages spoken. Again, it humbles me to think we have a place in our community that serves everyone–everyone is safe. Well, there is a significant number of the usual sauna users (and the Y in general) that are seniors. 1000s. It is s a safe place. No roided out muscle heads, nor young women wearing butt-tape parading their posteriors to the world. All ages, all colors, all languages find sanctuary at our Y.

    When I was getting frustrated with our decision to begin to distance (I’m an outlier of extroverts–I spend most of my day out of the house) I was fortunate enough to think about my friends in the Y who were in their 70s/80s/90s . (No shit, I was playing pickleball with Bob who was 93 a few years ago). I would never forgive myself if I–in my selfish desire to PT at a facility–gave the bug to our gentler class.

    That said–we cannot dismiss the true concerns of our economy. 22 million people are unemployed. Not a single one of our leaders had the courage to lock us down in late Jan or early February. Even in Washington, our governor did not issue a stay at home order until mid March. He didn’t have the guts. If we had truly locked down for 2 weeks, we might have seen this thing die out quickly. The left criticized Trump for restricting travel from China in Jan. De Blasio told NYC to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Florida allowed Spring Break–that would have been akin to stopping retail purchasing on Black Friday through Christmas. These choices are hard–no one could see the future.

    We all failed. Now, when the weed shops in Washington are considered ‘essential businesses’, but a landscaper has fired all of his employees and may have his truck repossessed… government construction is essential, but private construction is halted…

    Now, who knows–we might be too late. We are 18 months from a vaccine. We don’t really know the lethality of the virus–but we do know the lethality of abject poverty, the despair of hopelessness, the crippling nature of fear/uncertainty.

    Those of us that are blessed enough to be able to afford a $100 a month internet connection so we can pontificate about the hoi polloi may want to exercise a little gratitude. Pray for wisdom of our leaders. Pray for self constraint among ourselves, and our citizens.

    We may have to cut this baby to survive. The camel’s nose in under the tent. Maybe we need to protect our most vulnerable, grab both our shields (masks) and our spears (our trucks, wrenches, spoons, computers, forklifts, our tools of our trades); link arms and begin to take the fight to the enemy.
    bsn

    • Dave Dalton on April 22, 2020 at 9:11 am

      Hi Brian… it’s me again, I just noticed you live outside of Seattle. I was there towards the end of January, I still vividly recall getting off the plane at SeaTac and seeing a sea of facemasks from people coming from Asia… it seemed so odd to me, almost like “why are they doing this”… I didn’t see any American looking people wearing the masks… and as it turned out… we were uninformed.

      • Brian Nelson on April 23, 2020 at 8:45 pm

        Thanks Dave. I appreciate it.
        Hey! I just looked at your site. NICE. I’d love to chat. Kelly and I produce a race in Tacoma. August will be our 10th year (fingers crossed), and we’re debating if/how to pull it off this year. It is the primary fundraiser for our animal rescue, and we have provided breakfast for the past 4 years. We made a decision to not have our breakfast burritos–but would love to talk about eBars as something we can substitute for a meal experience. Cool business. Nice site.
        bsn

  4. Dannielle on April 22, 2020 at 8:01 am

    Great piece to read in these times, Steven- thank you!

  5. Marie on April 22, 2020 at 8:10 am

    Thank you, Steven, for this. It’s quite clear that some in the United States (thankfully a minority) don’t truly believe in community and and don’t truly believe in unity. Hopefully they won’t destroy the rest of us.

  6. Gene on April 22, 2020 at 8:25 am

    Well said, Steve. We’re all at the tip of the spear and only as strong as the people who hold the line with us.

  7. Ronald Sieber on April 22, 2020 at 8:27 am

    Time and reflection will truth out the effect of this virus on our worldwide human landscape, but a few things seem to stand out to me right now, and that is:
    humans are chronically shortsighted and thus don’t plan well for the future;
    humans forget too quickly the lessons they should have internalized about past viruses;
    COVID-19 may not be The Big One, but just a warning about The Big One.
    I hope that our leaders learn from this, criticize each other less, and plan together (and better) for the future. Skeptic that I am, I am going to stock up a bit more in non-perishables. And pray more.
    =rds

  8. York on April 22, 2020 at 8:29 am

    Awesome post!

  9. Chris on April 22, 2020 at 8:30 am

    This is a pathetic piece that spawned pathetic comments from information starved boot lickers and virtue signalers.

    • Kyke on April 22, 2020 at 8:50 am

      Trolls are in every community! Don’t feed them

    • Kandy on April 22, 2020 at 9:35 am

      I agree with Chris. I don’t see the parallel between a mask and a shield. The mask does not protect, it’s a signal of compliance and subordination, and communism. The way Birx et al classifies Covid-19 deaths is if you test positive for the virus, and you die, it’s a Covid-19 death. That means if you’re skydiving and your parachute doesn’t open but you have the antibodies, you’re a Covid-19 death. If you had terminal liver cancer and you die right now, it’s a Covid-19 death. It’s completely ridiculous. So we don’t have true numbers on the actual death rate. Everything is inflated in order to seize our individual liberties. The silent enemy here is communism, and it’s winning. Putting on a face mask is the equivalent of holding a shield made of tofu.

      • Brian Nelson on April 23, 2020 at 8:46 pm

        Shield of tofu!!! Classic.
        bsn

      • Mike on June 15, 2020 at 8:58 am

        The shield, as the article said, also protects the person next to the one carrying the shield. The mask protects the person next to the one wearing the mask.

        Although it’s an imperfect example, the shield only secondarily protects the person next to the one carrying the shield, where the mask does more to protect the person next to the mask than it does the mask wearer. This is where our over emphasis on “rights” obscures our responsibilities. If we looked out for each other, we would be better protected.

        Reminds me of a story about the difference between heaven and hell… Both are equally sumptuous banquets of wonderful and exotic food perfectly prepared. But, utensils are fused to each hand and they are 4′ long. In hell, the people are frustrated, angry, and clashing with each other because they can’t feed themselves. In heaven… people are happily celebrating, bantering back and forth with conversation and humour while they feed each other.

        Let’s not forget that the virus does not move — people move the virus!

  10. Eli Rikovitz on April 22, 2020 at 8:41 am

    Very nicely written, dear Steve. The Spartans were very wise the way they acted. Best wishes, Eli

  11. Brendan Quinn on April 22, 2020 at 8:49 am

    My wife and I honeymooned in Crete about a year and a half ago. From the very first interaction we had with a Cretan (literally, the taxi driver who took us from airport to the resort), I was struck by how highly they value taking care of their natural resources. They care about caring for their land, water and air, and all citizens take personal responsibility for the task. They all see how ignoring the earth would be like pointing a gun at their own foot and pulling the trigger. It is in all of our best interests to take care of each other. Anything less is short sighted at best and criminal at worst.
    Great article!

  12. Kyle on April 22, 2020 at 8:51 am

    Loved the article. Great metaphor

  13. Milan on April 22, 2020 at 8:53 am

    Good story, but.
    Even comparing today’s majority of people and the Spartans is pretty wrong. In every possible way.
    So all the comments are unneeded.
    But I did like reading them 🙂 Good luck US people, hold on.

  14. Anne Marie on April 22, 2020 at 9:21 am

    Go Spartans! They had sense. Let us heed them.. Thanks for this, Steven, as always. God bless.

  15. Andrew Lubin on April 22, 2020 at 9:25 am

    It’s all about being part of being part of something bigger than youself, and how working as a team provides a better chance of success. Most don’t understand it, but Spartans, Marines. and a few other do. Thanks Steve, for making it so clear!

  16. Daniel J. Stutzman on April 22, 2020 at 9:39 am

    Great insight. Thank you Steve.

  17. Sharon Small on April 22, 2020 at 9:39 am

    Thanks, Steven, nice metaphor. It does require some cross-domain thinking – for those who work and think in metaphor (understanding one thing in terms of another – Lakoff & Johnson 1980) rather than literal or literary comparisons, it makes good sense. During this time of Covid19, I shall continue to wield my shield! 🙂

  18. Kris on April 22, 2020 at 9:39 am

    This virus is not attacking a line of warriors; it is attacking the citizens. It isn’t the virus which is the significant threat, but rather our reaction to it is the threat to our country and our homes. Service members — our military — take an oath to protect and defend the US Constitution. The cliche is that we fight for apple pie and our American way of life; the buzzword is FREEDOM. No where in any oath I ever took as a Marine did I swear to protect all lives at all costs. A bit of an example: Service members are issued gas masks in case of a chemical attack. They are sent into battle anyway, and the gas masks aren’t there to save their lives — the masks are there to keep them alive for just a little bit longer, to fight just a little bit longer, and the algorithms predict how many will die — yet they are sent into battle anyway. To protect and defend the CONSTITUTION some will die. We accept possible death in defense of our freedom, our liberty. We have given up our freedoms, our liberties, what we are granted by the Constitution — yet now the US Military has been complicit, as have the American people in giving away our civil liberties and freedoms. Sparta? The warriors? True warriors are willing to sacrifice for the greater good. It appears that the disagreement is in what is “the greater good.” Protecting lives at all costs? Didn’t reports from China speak of welding doors shut to keep people “isolated?” Is that what we support? And a real student of war understands that the best blow to a nation is to cripple its economy. We are crippling our own economy. Spartans didn’t want to die, and the citizens didn’t want them to die either. However, keeping people alive AT ALL COSTS is something Spartans would NEVER have done. Decades ago, I assented to give my life for this nation’s FREEDOM, if it came to that. I hoped it didn’t, but I was willing. Cut the hysteria. The entire country won’t die even if everyone is infected; the death rate is pretty low — far more people recover than die. At what cost are we saving the handful of lives? How many died in Iwo Jima? The Civil War? This virus — are you kidding me? Why is this a more noble cause to succumb to at the cost of our FREEDOM and our liberties? And note, the Spartans and other warriors rarely died cowering in the corner, hiding from the enemy. They met the enemy head on.

    • Bob Lamitie on April 26, 2020 at 12:12 pm

      You’re giving up your freedom and liberties? Really? Are you locked in your apartment without a key? Are you in jail? Cut the hysteria indeed. Give up our freedom “at all costs”? Again, really? Is anyone stopping you from worshipping who you want to worship, living where you want to live, believing what you want to believe? This isn’t “all costs.” Yes, it’s a significant cost. But to save literally tens of thousands of lives of people who would die but won’t if people socially distance, including many first responders, health care workers and other heroes?

      Americans used to come together naturally to benefit other Americans and ensure the common good. These days it seems selfishness and an inability to consider the welfare of others when asked to sacrifice is coming to be considered an American trait. If it is American to be selfish, to value the common good and be willing to sacrifice to ensure it, it hasn’t always been so. Used to be seen as obvious civic duty.

      • sendaiben on June 14, 2020 at 6:17 pm

        Pretty lame, that wearing a mask for a few minutes is some horrendous imposition, eh?

        Very glad I am in Japan for this (no lockdown, just clear government advice that people followed: wear a mask, reduce social interactions, and avoid crowded places).

        We have had fewer total casualties since January that the US had yesterday -and that in the world’s oldest country.

  19. Marina Goritskaia on April 22, 2020 at 9:58 am

    Regarding the trolls. I’d say any metaphor is deficient, but the deficiency of this one is not above average.

  20. Bane on April 22, 2020 at 10:29 am

    What could cause more fear of annihilation than a global pandemic from an invisible killer. Some are gonna cut and run. But that the curve at this moment has stopped its exponential trajectory is due to the majority holding the line.

    As the Spartan moms used to say about their shields. “Come back with it or come back on it.”

  21. Terry Weaver on April 22, 2020 at 10:52 am

    Steve, you know as well as I do that when one signs up to be a warrior (Roman, Marine or otherwise) they abdicate their rights. The citizens of the US have not done that. I believe that people left alone will think better and protect themselves better than the government can do for them.

    Love you writing though dude, S/F

    • Bob Lamitie on April 26, 2020 at 12:49 pm

      I would argue you’re wrong that people left along will think better and protect themselves better. People take stupid risks about once a second these days and we see them hurting themselves and making the Darwin awards. And if it doesn’t hurt others, that is their right.

      But in this case, if you catch the corona virus yourself because you’re careless, survive and give it to three other people who then pass it on, sickening 50 people and killing one, who happens to be my, I dunno, my daughter, you may have done an acceptable job of protecting yourself, but you’ve also caused a death, a death you’ll probably never know about, but a death that could distort and destroy lives and a family. That’s a death you would never know about, but would have helped cause, a death that would not have happened if you hadn’t done what you did.

      Isn’t it worth the small inconveniences being asked of you? Especially when you remember that it could be me wandering around unsafely and catching and spreading the disease and causing the death of, say your wife or your mother or someone close to you. And I’d never know. I know it’s worth it to me to know I’m not causing deaths I could avoid.

      The shield metaphor holds perfectly. The man who throws away his shield by exposing himself to contagion, even if he walked away unhurt, can cause untold havoc further down the line.

      Be healthy, everyone.

  22. Michelle Rodenborn on April 22, 2020 at 10:52 am

    Steven,

    I suspect that your Spartans would not employ any battle strategy that would risk losing their entire army.

    I am disappointed that you use your otherwise admirable pages to criticize fellow Americans for exercising their constitutional rights. I fear that hatred of Trump has so blinded many people, (you included?) that they’ve lost their perspective. Everything is filtered through an anti-Trump lens. The protesters are pro-Trump, many believe, and therefore are evil. Their concerns are viewed as petty compared to their criticizers’ noble ones. Well, here’s my take.

    Americans can and should protest arbitrary government actions that encroach on their liberties. We risk losing our country and all we value if we don’t. Regarding Michigan’s governor, people are right to question her nonsensical rules that are not drawn with the end goal in mind: Canoes, GOOD; motorboats BAD. Paper towels GOOD; Tomato seeds BAD. Non-residents using vacations homes, GOOD; residents BAD. Sounds like “Animal Farm” to me.

    You and I lived through the Soviet era. Most of us were shocked that the Communists encouraged neighbors to turn in neighbors for various infractions. Yet that’s what some politicos on the left are doing now. Posts like yours encourage this simplistic “others are evil” mentality. “Us versus Them.”

    I’ve noticed that writers, particularly successful ones, are the first to point fingers at the masses who are eager to get back to the marketplace. Easy to stay home when that’s what you do for a living anyway. Easy to sit back with your computer and internet and savings, when many don’t have enough to feed their families. When their entire careers are going up in smoke. You’re a writer. Can’t you imagine the grief and conflict, even violence, going on in many homes today?

    There’s a reason that the word “live” is contained within “LIVElihood.” A livelihood is the means by which one can “make a living.” Your post discounts the lives of people who are fighting to make a living, (BAD), while pontificating nobly about saving the lives of others. (GOOD.)

    We must find a way to save as many people as possible, those with the virus, and those simply struggling to LIVE. There’s more than one way to fight a battle. Keep in mind basics economics: If people aren’t employed, governments have no revenue from taxes. What’s left then? Tyranny? Anarchy?

    I hope you return your posts to less divisive, more well-thought out discourses. This one was not helpful.

    From a Blog Reader & Black Irish Subscriber

  23. Joe Ciccarone on April 22, 2020 at 11:03 am

    “In 2006 he was made an honorary citizen of the city of Sparta in Greece.” – How cool I that? Well done Steve! Rock on…

  24. Joe on April 22, 2020 at 12:13 pm

    I suppose it’s timely that this article appeared “The Atlantic” website about an hour ago, with the headline, “Don’t Wear a Mask for Yourself.”
    https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/04/dont-wear-mask-yourself/610336

    Some excerpts:

    “Masks can be worn to *protect the wearer* from getting infected, or masks can be worn to *protect others* from being infected by the wearer.”

    “Research shows that even a cotton mask dramatically reduces the number of virus particles emitted from our mouths—by as much as 99 percent. This reduction provides two huge benefits. Fewer virus particles mean that people have a better chance of avoiding infection, and if they are infected, the lower viral exposure load may give them a better chance of contracting only a mild illness.”

    “Models show that if 80 percent of people wear masks that are 60 percent effective, easily achievable with cloth, we can get to an effective R0 [transmission rate] of less than one. That’s enough to halt the spread of the disease.”

    “My mask protects you; your masks protect me.”

    There’s more good info in there. It’s short and uses plain language. Be well, y’all.

    • Brian Nelson on April 23, 2020 at 8:51 pm

      Joe,
      I like the last line. My mask protects you, your mask protects me. Good way to look at it.
      bsn

  25. Nina on April 22, 2020 at 12:18 pm

    Steven, well done!
    We need to do this together and not turn everything into a political debate.
    Death doesn’t check whether your Democrat or Republican…

    I see some of you have no idea what medical staff is up against. There are countries where they had such a huge increase of patients that at some point they had to choose who lives and who dies. Who gets a bed on the ICU and who doesn’t. Do you know that some patients who get so sick that they will die; will die alone, because the virus is so contagious you can’t hold their hand or say goodbye for the last time.
    Have you no idea of the severity and aggressiveness of this virus?
    Wouldn’t you wear a face-mask (shield) to protect your loved ones from getting ill?
    To preserve our freedom!

  26. Richard Brady Williams on April 22, 2020 at 1:19 pm

    My initial thought was “This is a great writing site and not well suited for political controversies.” That being said, the article certainly unleashed a lot of great authentic comments both pro and con. Probably a good (short) break from writing. As a business executive, my simple view is that there is a partnership between the shield-to-shield warriors on the battlefield…and the workers back home whose businesses are open, which enable them to continue to send food, medical supplies, weaponry, etc. to the front line. Onward & upward with our writing projects!

    • sendaiben on June 14, 2020 at 6:22 pm

      It’s a shame that some chose to politicise wearing a mask in public: probably the cheapest, easiest, least intrusive and most effective thing you could do to end this pandemic.

  27. Renita on April 22, 2020 at 1:22 pm

    The warrior needs a commander to follow. Or all is lost.

  28. Renita on April 22, 2020 at 1:32 pm

    Just a thought.
    The way to restore, invigorate, and constellate order is to through sharing stories and understanding.

  29. Joe on April 23, 2020 at 4:56 am

    Renita, to your observation of the need for us to have leader worthy of following… I’ve carried around this short passage from Steve’s “Tides of War” for many years. I always pull it out when the conversation turns to “what makes a good leader.”

    Coincidentally, this passage appears in the chapter titled, “The Intersection of Necessity and Free Will,” which pretty much nails the theme of this week’s conversation.

    ***
    Three and a half years later, before Byzantium, I attended a night-long drinking bout. Someone had put the query “How does one lead free men?” “By being better than they,” Alcibiades responded at once.

    The symposiasts laughed at this, even Thrasybulus and Theramenes, our generals.

    “By being better,” Alcibiades continued, “and thus commanding their emulation.” He was drunk, but on him it accounted nothing, save to liberate those holdings nearest to his heart. “When I was not yet twenty, I served in the infantry. Among my mates was Socrates the son of Sophroniscus. In a fight the enemy had routed us and were swarming our position. I was terrified and loading up to flee. Yet when I beheld him, my friend with gray in his beard, plant his feet on the earth and seat his shoulder within the great bowl of his shield, a species of eros, life-will, arose within me like a tide. I discovered myself compelled, absent all prudence, to stand beside him.”

    “A commander’s role is to model arete, excellence, before his men. One need not thrash them to greatness; only hold it out before them. They will be compelled by their own nature to emulate it.”

    • Brian Nelson on April 23, 2020 at 8:57 pm

      Joe,
      I need to add that to my Pressfield quote list. Here is my favorite Pressfield quote about leadership:
      Gates of Fire:
      “A king does not abide within his tent while his men bleed and die upon the field. A king does not dine while his men go hungry, nor sleep when they stand at watch upon the wall. A king does not command his men’s loyalty through fear nor purchase it with gold; he earns their love by the sweat of his own back and the pains he endures for their sake. That which comprises the harshest burden, a king lifts first and sets down last. A king does not require service of those he leads but provides it to them…A king does not expend his substance to enslave men, but by his conduct and example makes them free.”
      bsn

      • Joe on April 24, 2020 at 7:59 am

        Ya, Brian. That one is also a favorite. Some of this stuff makes me think more about previous/parallel lives (which I think he’s written about). These feel like words that come **through** somebody, rather than **from** them.

  30. Simon Townley on April 23, 2020 at 6:38 am

    Honorary citizen of Sparta! Best literary award ever.

  31. Mike Wilke on April 23, 2020 at 7:45 am

    Exactly!
    Excellent example.

  32. Lyndon Kessler on April 23, 2020 at 11:06 am

    It makes me sad to see the ‘Pandemic’ reduced to Tribal Warfare. Our current times are not about “Us or Them”, it is simply about ‘US”, and not about ‘ME’.

  33. Jerry Ellis on April 24, 2020 at 9:57 am

    Wonderful and beautifully thought out piece, Steve, and of special interest to me since I live seasonally in Rome for 17 years now, when I am not home in the USA. Also, seven months ago I was offered a book deal by a NY publisher to walk the Appian Way, which is my genre, adventure/history. But the advance was too modest for me to consider, and especially after two six figure deals with Random House. My book, Walking the Trail, One Man’s Journey Along the Cherokee Trail of Tears, was nominated for both a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. Keep up the great and insightful work, Steve! Your torch lights the way for so many.

  34. basketball stars on April 24, 2020 at 8:40 pm

    Because helmet and breastplate are worn to protect the individual alone but the shield is borne to protect the whole line.

  35. Joe DiStefano on May 22, 2020 at 3:09 am

    The Spartans were strong, fit, metabolically healthy and surely not vitamin D deficient given they were training naked outdoors so often. These facts put their people, especially their warriors, at a VERY low risk for COVID-19. And my guess is, they would not have feared and “protected” themselves in this way at all, in fact they would have done the opposite. The Spartans would have stood their ground and allowed this rumored “enemy” to try to attack their city state. Perhaps they may have closed their borders but they surely would have not listened to the gossip from nations whom they felt were far less fit and less healthy than they are, both mentally and physically, that were battling an invisible enemy. In fact, I’d say they’d have likely laughed at those countries pushing all their people indoors wearing masks. Maybe they would have even attacked them and seized their lands as they were all preoccupied and frantic.

    If we had to point to one country in the modern world that is replicating something close to what the Spartans may have done it would be Sweden. Socially distance, protect the elders, and maintain order. Molṑn labé!

  36. Stephen on June 14, 2020 at 4:36 pm

    Why? I think society consists perpetually of a significant proportion of contrarians who will always swim against the tide. Not always a bad thing.
    The race riots show that no political lines can contain those who do contrary to a deemed civic duty.
    The Candian PM, oh what a charlatan, seems to do whatever necessary to stay vogue: masking, kneeling, mobbing, marching, apologising, complaining, accusing.

  37. Dr. Tim Hadley on June 15, 2020 at 9:30 am

    To say “One failed shield and the whole army could be lost” is what is called “begging the question”–assuming what has not been proved. Further, to stretch that analogy to fit the current COVID-19 crisis is another assumption that is, at the least, open to serious debate. Finally, to state with finality that anyone who doesn’t wear a mask is sinning against the polis is to assume that mask-wearing is both necessary and effective against this disease, b/c our leaders told us it is, and they must know what they’re doing. We all know how wrong such an assumption is.

    PS–There are many legitimate reasons why someone might post anonymously, besides being a coward–another incorrect assumption.

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