Like most of you, I have been mesmerized by the nonstop news of how our country is facing up to what is being called the “unprecedented” coronavirus threat. The recurrent message is that this is the most severe challenge we have ever faced as a nation, and that we must dig deep and be up to the challenge.
I was born in September 1940, when Germany, in the London Blitz, was destroying (yes, literally) London and many other great cities in England. The fatality rate of the British civilian population was horrendous. The Nazi threat was hellishly greater than that from the coronavirus, which now has most of us terrified. We (Britain, U.S., allies) rose successfully to the challenge of the Nazi and Japanese insanity.
This is not a side-interest of mine. I have long been fascinated by the Western response in WW II, particularly the American version of the response. I have a small library about WW II — Europe, North Africa, and the giant Western Pacific, involving the Hitlerian Nazi scourge and the insane Japanese effort, all confronted with unprecedented life-sacrificing courage by not just Americans but also our allies. We prevailed.
In my childhood, I remember the fear — and the accompanying implacable resolution to resist — of my farm family and everyone in our orbit to pull together and resist the threat to our form of civilization and to our very lives. My family and relatives were all involved, which I cannot forget, although I did not understand what was happening as a youngster.
The current coronavirus threat to our way of life is pathetic in comparison to the WW II threat. Also: the response of Americans to the coronavirus is minuscule, compared to our energetic response to the threats of Germany and Japan in WW II. We are not newly challenged.
So let’s not be too smug about how nobly we are pulling together in the face of an “unprecedented” threat. We’ve already faced something more threatening than this. We’ve come through.
So, to my fellow citizens: Let’s pull together, of course, but let us also draw on the courage of our elders, who triumphantly faced much grimmer prospects than this.
As a child, I had friends whose relatives gave their lives in WW II. In third grade a friend of mine brought to school a photograph of his big brother who was killed in one of the horrible beach invasions of the South Pacific islands. He would have gladly traded Japanese bullets for COVID-19.
Remember: We don’t have to reinvent courage and resistance. It’s who we are. It’s who we have always been. It’s who we still are.