As I write this, the American West is toasting over huge fires like a giant marshmallow. Even people who never lie are glancing down to make certain that their pants aren’t on fire.
While this summer of sooty lungs starts to look unprecedented, the experts are struggling against the fires with bravery and skill.
You can almost feel their dedication to those 19 wildfire fighters who were killed June 30 by a wind that turned the fire around and more or less murdered those men. That memory feeds the resolve of brother and sister firefighters who now test the theory that you can slow a fire with tears.
When people are threatened with death, this country has the capacity and the zeal to come running with all the money, machines, blood and sweat that it takes to save as many as possible. And that is true whether you are talking about the national government, the states, the cities or the counties.
Witness that throng of firefighters now battling the eccentric big bonfires of the West. Lives are threatened, and this country isn’t going to take that lying down, no matter what the price tag.
Because of that, few if any will die.
Similarly, municipal fire departments race into danger if so much as one small home is on fire. Virtually every community in the nation is stubbornly prepared with training and equipment for that kind of danger.
And because of that, not many die.
The same is true of floods and hurricanes and tornadoes. One false move from an angry, storm and responders race to the rescue.
Because of that, the death toll is remarkably low in such emergencies.
If lethal cranks kill 3,000 people in New York City, the whole nation and unstinting international friends like Canada pitch in.
Because of the modern ways of minimizing death while making war, little more than 1,000 of the U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have died each year. Compare that to the enormous death tolls of the Civil War, World War I and World War II.
When people are dying, even on a small scale, few begrudge the expenditure.
With one glaring exception: medical care.
Many in this country prefer not to provide all of their fellow citizens with medical care. They resist paying to save the lives of what is now about 22,000 of our citizens who die each year of treatable diseases because they can’t afford to seek medical attention.
Every one of those 22,000 deaths could have been avoided. They could have been saved if that cause had been supported in the same spirit as war, forest fires, home fires and lethal storms.
How strange that we understand and appreciate virtually every use of state and national defense – except the one defense that lets the most people die.
If terrorists attack, the defense department rides to the rescue. It protects 100 percent of those who are threatened.
If diseases and cancers and strokes are killing thousands of Americans each year, that’s considered unfortunate, but large numbers of voters aren’t interested in protecting everyone.
Why aren’t attacks on us by microbes also considered an enemy? What difference does it make whether it is a human disease or a mentally diseased bomber that tries to snuff out lives?
Perhaps it is time to make universal health care part of the Defense Department. Germs and viruses kill more of us each year than fires, weather and war. But we don’t try to save all endangered medical patients.
That’s like defending everyone in the country from foreign terrorists except for the residents of Idaho.Contact columnist Bill Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.