Politicians and TV’s talking heads have been saying our current COVID-19 international crisis is much like living during WWII. It’s not. For those of us who lived that period from 1938 to1945, the differences are stark and numerous.
My father was too old for the draft at that time. So, he volunteered to be a warden for the feds. Living on a ranch of several thousand acres, his assigned area was quite large. His responsibilities: assure other ranch homes had their black blinds in place every night; make sure drivers had black coverings on headlights with the little slit that allowed a small sliver of light to see the road; notify authorities of anything unusual; keep a detailed, written record of his rounds.
That warden authority came a pith helmet and an armband. Though unarmed, his duties were largely respected. Neighboring ranch owners followed whatever directions he was authorized to give and some even joined him on his lengthy, blacked out, nightly trips. A hundred miles each night. Then some.
What Dad did as a single citizen was a representation of a national effort – an effort where everyone on the “home front” was expected to become active in thousands of small ways to back up the military on the front lines. Regardless of age. And volunteer we did!
I remember saving pennies, nickels and dimes to take to school to put in a can on the teacher’s desk. Each 10-cents earned a small stamp that went in my little book. When filled, I got a “war bond” for the 18-dollars the book represented. At the end of the war, we would get 25-dollars back.
Mom saved cooking lard for reuse. Put black blinds on all windows. We kept a large garden and raised our own beef, pork and chickens, supporting not only ourselves but some neighbors and some city folks at church. Gas for all vehicles and farm equipment was rationed. Unnecessary travel was banned. No outside lights at night. We used federal food rationing stamps.
Even as a kid, I was part of an all-out national movement to support and defend the country. There was work. There were responsibilities. There was a sense of urgency and seriousness. But, most of all, there was an all-encompassing “we’re-in-this-together” feeling everywhere.
There’s nothing like that now. We’ve become more divided – acting more as single citizens and less as a whole. This is not 1944!
When the emergency COVID-19 relief bill passed the Senate, eight Senators voted “no.” When told to stay home, thousands of college kids hit the beaches in Florida and other coastal states. A guy who tested positive checked himself out of the hospital and went back to work, obviously endangering others. Newspapers across the country reported similar acts of defiance of law, order and sensibility.
We’re no longer the united “home front” of WWII. We’ve become a nation of individuals, clearly divided by race, sex, morality, social standing, economics, religion and anything else you can think of.
While individualism is not all bad, at this time, battling an unseen enemy that could – and likely will – eventually kill millions, it’s not the best personality trait you want to see displayed.
And, there’s this important difference. During WWII, we had a President who not only told the truth, he made an extreme personal effort to reassure a frightened nation. His “fireside chats” were informal radio talks. A New Englander’s voice of calm and a voice of real leadership, despite a crippling disease that would kill him before the war ended.
Now, we have a “president” who looks you straight in the eye and lies! And lies! And lies! And LIES! He even attempted to “classify” details of our pandemic so only he and his handpicked “spokesmen” would be allowed to brief Americans with whatever information was deemed supportive of Trump.
Then, something began happening. Voices of experts began being heard – unclassified voices of people with expertise – with knowledge – with facts. People with valuable information began working around the White House. And, eventually, even the “president” was forced to face facts, bad though they are.
Now, we’re being told it’s “up to the 50 states” to equip health care professionals who’re leading our defense against COVID-19. “Not the federal governments responsibility,” we’re told. Let the states fend for themselves is the attitude. And we have a “president” who looked into the TV camera and said he bears “no responsibility” for hiding facts, for lying about the dangers we face and for screwing up the administration’s disastrous response to the pandemic.
No. There’s little connection – if any – to how this nation reacted to the dangers posed by WWII. That was then. This is now.
The armed military we nationally supported then has become an army of health professionals we must now support with life-saving equipment, new isolation facilities, staffing and reliable information. And we need to forego some of that “individualism” by obeying orders to stay home, to isolate ourselves one from the other, to practice good personal care to avoid any possible spread of the virus.
What we’re being asked to do – what we must do – has nothing to do with “over there.” This war is “over here” – anyplace you happen to be. National security and an assured future are up to each of us to be shared by all of us.
I remember the ‘40’s and the times we lived through. But, now, it just ain’t the same.