The pandemic has made life difficult for people all over the world, and Americans are no exception. The health issues are obvious. We have had at least 4.5 million coronavirus cases and 150,000 deaths just since the first of the year. If the people who have spent careers studying pandemics are believed — and they should be — things are going to get worse.
Beyond health, there are economic problems. Millions of Americans have been laid off and businesses everywhere are closing up. Even with an enormous government program to help both the unemployed and the failing businesses, we are in a downward slide.
Then there are the social aspects of this. Bars and restaurants are closed or extremely limited in what they can offer. Theme parks are mostly closed, movie theaters are locked up, sports events have been pared way back, and all sorts of fairs and festivals have been canceled. It’s hard to find anything to do right now without jeopardizing your safety, those you know and love, or even strangers. Life just isn’t much fun. Has this ever happened before? Well, yes.
World War II was a terrible time for people in the US. Many young people were daily in harm’s way and more than 400,000 died. Many more were wounded. Back home, life was hard. While there were jobs available, there wasn’t much to spend money on. Movies were common but bad, sports events were significantly diminished, and many things were in short supply. Sugar and coffee were nearly impossible to get in sufficient amounts. Gasoline and tires were scarce, and by June 1942 companies also stopped manufacturing metal office furniture, radios, television sets, phonographs, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, and sewing machines for civilians. Life was not fun then either. Very similar to now. Except for the public reaction.
Complaining was not widespread and there were few riots. What is remarkable is how Americans knew they were in a fight and stepped up to help the country. Everybody had a victory garden in the backyard, and people worked as much as they could to help the war effort. They were all in it together. And here’s the kicker: This went on for four years.
Contrast that to what we see and hear today: constant complaining about sheltering and distancing. We are having a rebellion about wearing masks. COVID-19 parties are springing up. So many people are acting without concern for others. And there is so much sadness because life is not fun. How long has it been for us? Less than five months.
We need to be tougher. Our parents and grandparents put up with hard times a lot longer than we have. They did it with resolve and sacrifice. What kind of sacrifices are we making? No Friday night outings or huge parties? When this all started there were signs everywhere reminding us we are all in this together. That didn’t last long. How much are we together when stores who require masks have to regularly call the police to deal with recalcitrant customers? Our citizens are better than that, and we need to demonstrate it. Let’s do it together.
Fred Abraham is professor emeritus at the University of Northern Iowa. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect those of the university.
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