Brett Crozier, the Captain of the US warship Theodore Roosevelt docked near Guam in the Pacific, had to pay with his job for writing a letter seeking measures to keep more than 4,000 crew of the ship safe from coronavirus. Currently, fired from his post, Crozier is also said to have tested positive for coronavirus.

The action that cost Crozier his job was the four-page letter that he wrote to his higher-ups in the Navy, US administration and the press. This situation is similar to the one that occurred 122 years ago, when former US president Theodore Roosevelt was a Colonel in the US Army Fifth Corps that was at Santiago de Cuba.

In 1898, the Spanish-American War had ended and the Fifth Corps was situated at Cuba when the country was facing Malaria and yellow fever. The Fifth Corps had 4,270 crew members and were facing the danger of contracting severe illness.

The higher-ups had asked Roosevelt to write a letter to the administration explaining why they should be recalled right now.

Bret Crozier Theodore Roosevelt
Brett Crozier (L) Theodore Roosevelt (R) Wikipedia

Roosevelt wrote the (then infamous) Round Robin letter. Here is an excerpt from the letter: "There is no possible reason for not shipping practically the entire command North at once. Yellow-fever cases are very few in the cavalry division, where I command one of the two brigades, and not one true case of yellow fever has occurred in this division, except among the men sent to the hospital at Siboney, where they have, I believe, contracted it. But in this division there have been 1,500 cases of malarial fever."

"Quarantine against malarial fever is much like quarantining against the toothache. All of us are certain that as soon as the authorities at Washington fully appreciate the condition of the army, we shall be sent home. If we are kept here it will in all human possibility mean an appalling disaster, for the surgeons here estimate that over half the army, if kept here during the sickly season, will die. If there were any object in keeping us here, we would face yellow fever with as much indifference as we faced bullets. But there is no object."

"Our present camps are as healthy as any camps at this end of the island can be. I write only because I cannot see our men, who have fought so bravely and who have endured extreme hardship and danger so uncomplainingly, go to destruction without striving so far as lies in me to avert a doom as fearful as it is unnecessary and undeserved," wrote Theodore Roosevelt, then Colonel Commanding Second Cavalry Brigade.

The letter was signed by all the officers and sent to Shafter and meant for delivery to the Army Headquarters in Washington and a copy of the letter also sent to an Associated Press correspondent.

On finding the letter published, President William McKinley requested every possible effort to ascertain the name of the person responsible for its publication. But later fearing public ire, the men of the Fifth Corps were hastily recalled to Long Island, New York.

When compared to the current situation, Crozier had written in his letter that 4,800 crew members of the ship were facing the danger of contracting coronavirus. Reports had claimed that hundreds of the crew members had already tested positive for coronavirus.

Reacting to the desperate plea, Defence Secretary Mark Esper had said that there was no chance of evacuating the ship. The plight of the ship was similar to civilian cruise ships that are facing the ill-effects of Covid-19 spread. Supplies and medical assistance were being provided at the Roosevelt. Additional medical personnel are also being provided as they need it, he had said.

Crozier's letter had stated: "We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating. There is space constraint and social distancing cannot be practised putting the life of thousands of crew in danger. It may seem like an extraordinary measure, but it is a necessary risk."

Thus he requested that crew to be quarantined at Guam, where the ship was docked. He had also referred to the conditions people had to suffer in the Diamond Princess ship that has taken 11 lives so far and more than 716 have been confirmed to have tested positive for coronavirus.

Crozier's letter was emailed and was sent through non-secure, unclassified channels. It was directed to at least to 30 people including his immediate chain of command, and the letter was somehow leaked to the press.

In the current case, where Captain Crozier remains fired from his post, he received thunderous farewell from the sailors of Theodore Roosevelt, who chanted his name and said his actions will be remembered in the days to come.