The Pandemic and Word War II

Bill Neinast

The COVID-19 pandemic is being compared to World War II.  Rosie the Riveter has been been resurrected.

Rosie was the poster girl symbolizing that every American woman and man was involved in the war effort during the 1940s.  She was  portrayed as a muscular lady cocking her arm under a bandana covered head, ready to go to work riveting ships.

Today, caricatures of Rosie are appearing in Op-ed pages of newspapers with captions that we are all involved in the fight against COVID-19.

There definitely are some correlations between the 1940s and 2020.  In both eras, every American is arrayed against a common enemy.  

In WWII, the enemy was the Germans, Italians, and Japanese.  They were easily identified and the means of defending against them and defeating them were well known.

Today, the enemy is known, but it is invisible. There are some rudimentary means of defense, such as quarantine, but no methods like the atomic bomb for destroying this enemy.

The major difference between the two wars, however, is in personal attitude.

In WWII, every man, woman, and child knew we were at war and wanted to do their bit in killing the enemy.  Nearly every family had a husband, father, son, or brother wearing a military uniform.  Every one dreaded having a Western Union messenger appear at the front door.  That signaled a loved one was missing in action or, even worse, had been killed in action.

Women who previously had been limited to housekeeping, nursing, or secretarial occupations, were now wearing overalls, covering their hair with bandannas, and building war machines like Rosie the Riveter.

Everyone was buying War Bonds to help fund the war effort.  Even kids were involved in this effort. They could buy stamps with their earnings and allowances, and when their stamp book was full, it could be turned in for a bond. 

There was no possibility of hoarding.  Everything was rationed.  You had to have a proper stamp to buy anything—gasoline, meat, sugar, coffee, shoes, canned goods, automobile tires, and the list goes on and on.

There were very few homes and apartments without blue stars hanging in the front window.  Many churches and schools exhibited flags with a blue star for every member wearing a uniform.  When a blue star was exchanged for a gold star, indicating the service member it represented had become a war casualty, the whole community wept.

Compare that commitment of the entire nation to last century’s war effort to today’s.  Currently, every man, woman, and child in America may be catching and/or carrying a deadly virus.  As there is currently no cure for the virus and no means to protect against it, we have been asked to avoid close contact with others.

So how is that working?  How are Americans distancing themselves from others to avoid a deadly virus?

From my vantage point, they are failing miserably.

I now live in Williamson County, near Austin.  As of the writing of this article, there are 37 cases of the virus and one death in the county.

In an effort to stem the tide of the killer, there is a shelter in place order in effect.  Citizens are asked not to leave their homes except on essential errands like going to work when required or for necessary food and medical care.

Apparently there  is very little compliance with that simple effort to combat the enemy.  My apartment overlooks Hero Way, a very busy four-lane street.  The traffic on that street has not been reduced by even 25% during the non-rush hours of individuals going to or from work.

Then turn on the TV and look at the shots of groups still gathering on the beaches, in parks, and other public places.  Most of those revelers appear to be young people who, for some reason, think the virus is only an old folks disease.

So here’s the perspective.

There is a valid comparison between the nation’s war against the Axis in the 1940s and its war against the virus today.  There is no comparison, however, between the citizens’ involvement then and now.

We will survive, but it will not be with the honor of 1945.

The only heroes will be the medical personnel who put their lives on the line every day as they tend to the seriously ill virus patients.   

There will not be another Greatest Generation.   



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