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A monument to human grotesquerie stands in the eastern part of Missouri, about 300 miles to St. Joseph's east.

It means to honor dead Americans, and that has nobility to it, but political failure on a grand scale, not to mention regional hubris, lends to the inhumane history of this stone along the Mississippi River.

Ever visited the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City? You get in the first few interpretive displays the context of spoiled European aristocrats feuding over territorial gains and losses as one cause of the war.

The American Civil War had an origin just as stupid. And the monument in West Alton, Missouri, by no means the most horrendous historical marker of that conflict but relatively near, points to a waste of human lives for a meritless purpose.

About 300 soldiers and 16 civilians have their names listed on the monument, some of them from Confederate Army outfits formed in Missouri. Most of these individuals had been captured and placed in a military prison in Alton, Illinois.

When they fell victim to a communicable disease, the federal authorities moved them to a temporary hospital on an island mid-river after conditions, according to one Confederate captain, had turned the place into a "terrible house of disease and death."

In short, the soldiers – rebels, true, but still Americans – went there to die in horrible conditions. Prior to the war, folks in Missouri knew this piece of land by the cheery name of Sunflower Island. History now regards it as Smallpox Island.

Skip ahead 155 years and the United States still wrestles with infectious diseases, not to mention the failed thinking that led to the Civil War. One of these days, maybe, Americans will get these right.

Most of us remain gratefully apart from the larger decisions that must be made to manage public health in the weeks and months ahead. These deliberations have high stakes, the highest, and they come in the aftermath of so many botched judgments so far.

In truth, I believed along with others that the virus would ease its grip on our country this summer and make a comeback as colder weather drives folks indoors this winter.

Yet here we stand with hot spots popping up in some of the warmest of warm-weather states, Texas in the red zone of hospital capacities, Arizona stretched to the max and Florida setting a record over the weekend for the most confirmed coronavirus cases in a 24-hour period.

Also like most Americans, I never could have imagined, of all the arguments a contentious nation might land upon, that mask-wearing in the midst of a pandemic would stir so many passions.

Lordy, the online world appears stuffed with videos of fellow citizens having full-blown, flipping-out, ranting-and-raving tantrums about the civic duress of wearing a face covering.

I keep imagining these people are either drunk or creating satire, yet I've seen enough of life to recognize pure motives and outrageous expression.

In the 1940s, Americans supporting the troops in World War II took part in scrap-metal drives, in rubber drives, in tin-can drives and paper drives. They sacrificed for the greater good.

Wear a mask today for the prospect of slowing a virus? Scream it out at a Costco, "We will not be bullied."

That was the "Greatest Generation." We live in the "Aggrieved Generation."

Seriously, stop it with talk of petty infringements of liberty. It's temporary if folks just pitch in.

And learn to spot a camera. Your yelling in public does not convince anyone or help a thing.

Ken Newton's column runs on Tuesday and Sunday. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPNewton.