It seems appropriate to be returning to the United States on Halloween Day, after having spent two weeks in Italy. Being abroad let me see truly how frightening the United States is right now. Give me ghouls and goblins. Give me ghosts and zombies. These scare me far less than the specter of disinformation that haunts the U.S. right now.
Being there showed me what it’s like to be in a country that takes the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic seriously. In order to enter the country at all as a foreign citizen, I had to prove that I had been fully vaccinated and provide proof of a negative test within 48 hours of my arrival. Once in Italy, masks were required to be worn by everyone indoors. They were worn seemingly without complaint. Government offices, public facilities, and many private businesses even went so far to require proof of vaccination for entry. While I was there, the Italian government instituted a nationwide vaccine requirement for all workers, hoping to boost their vaccination rate from 80% to 90%. A curtailment of freedom? Hardly. It made it possible to be out and about during a pandemic without worry of being infected or infecting others.
Granted, Italy was one of the first countries to be hit hard by the virus. Early in the pandemic, their health system was overwhelmed. The death rate was high. The country shut down. They were the canary in the coal mine, and the world watched as neighbors in Naples sang “Abbracciame” to each other from their balconies. It makes sense they would take the pandemic seriously.
Returning to the U.S., my sense of safety was replaced with a sense of dread. Many of my fellow Americans are simply unwilling to do what it takes to face down and defeat a virus that knows no politics or borders. In Italy, a country with 1,000 year-old buildings and 2,000 year-old roads, scars from old wars abound. In one small hill town, built as a defensive outpost between Florence and Sienna some 800 years ago, a building bore the faint lettering of a name that had been mostly scrubbed out. The name: Mussolini.
Seeing that reminded me of a time when Americans mounted up to take on a common enemy. It saddens me that so many of us fail to do so now. I wondered what might have happened if, in 1941, thirty percent of American soldiers decided they would rather not cross the Atlantic to risk everything to fight an enemy opposed everything we stand for. The world might have been robbed of America’s finest moment.
In this fight, we can win without anyone having to sacrifice their lives. All that’s at stake is a little inconvenience and slight discomfort. But we’re not even willing to do that for each other.
I’d like to think we’re better than this. We were once before.