To the Editor:
A true measure of a country, and its people, is how it handles a crisis. The American people in 1941 faced their greatest crisis and challenge since the Civil War. Japanese aircraft attacked us on our own territory in Hawai’i. Hitler had already overrun most of Europe. Whether we liked it or not, the United States was being pulled into the raging global conflict. Would the American people rise to the challenge? Of course we did. People volunteered to serve in the armed services and many took jobs in factories and businesses to support the war effort. We had a common enemy of Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito to vanquish to protect democracy and our way of life.
Right now we are faced with another crisis, another challenge and a common foe – a tiny globe of riboneucleic acid. With a mortality rate that has been estimated at 1% (which is ten times as deadly as the flu), if everyone in the country were infected by the virus, there would be 3.3 million deaths. That is a catastrophic amount of deaths. It’s an amount that could very well destroy our economy since it’s not just the effects of all those deaths but of the other millions who lost productive time due to illness, and those who had to take care of the sick. Our country could not keep pace with the amount of the sick and the dead. There would be total dystopian collapse that would make the downturn the economy took in some states’ efforts to control the virus via lockdown this spring seem like a puny, puerile joke.
Back in the 1940s no one marched in protest of efforts to rise up and face the challenge of authoritarianism. No one threatened governors who stood by our war effort. No one cried that our government was socialist because it told us how much sugar and cooking oil we could consume. No one erupted against the rationing to make sure our soldiers had what they needed. No one cried that their liberties were at peril when they had to black out windows at night for fear of attack by air or sea. Everyone put up with the inconveniences, and sacrifices, that were needed to protect and sustain our way of life – the American dream.
We now face our own crisis. And it’s dismaying to see how our nation has changed. Eighty years ago no one would have had the sheer idiocy to say that Germany, Japan and Italy – and their fascist leaders – did not exist and that the war was fake and a conspiracy. We are now asked to make sacrifices for the good of each other, and of our nation, and what is happening? If people eighty years ago did not rise up to the challenge and make their sacrifices, we all would know what it would be like now to live with the boot of an authoritarian government on our necks. Our common efforts to beat back this virus and save lives, and our nation’s well being, are the necessary sacrifices to ensure that we all still have the chance when the virus is vanquished to have life and liberty, and to pursue our happiness, free from a boot on our necks. If people cannot see that these sacrifices need to be made, then we will perish. The irony that knowing that the outcome could have been different had we come together — that none of our sacrifices entailed losing any of our inalienable rights – would be cold comfort for a nation gasping for breath.