The Journal Gazette
Thursday, October 21, 2021 1:00 am

The power of unity

WWII generation sets example for COVID fight

Richard B. Hatch

It was during the brief period of months between Germany's surrender in World War II and Japan's recognition of its loss that I was born.

That means that, technically, I missed the most pervasive and unified effort our country has ever made to overcome a force that threatened our existence.

I am speaking of the four years prior to my birth when the entire country rallied behind and fully complied with the mandated controls on the purchase and use of all kinds of goods. The process was known as rationing, and it affected everything from meat and dairy products to gasoline and tires.

There were other sacrifices and life complications made by millions of Americans to help win the war, and none was more significant than the military draft. Under that system, all able-bodied men within a broad age group were subject to, and likely to be tapped for military service.

Their term in active duty would be of unknown duration, and carried with it a high possibility of death or permanent injury.

And replacing them in their civilian jobs was a willing force of women, leaving their traditional homemaker positions and taking their places on the assembly lines or in other unfamiliar venues.

Further, thousands of manufacturers were required to end production of goods that were mandated to be non-essential, with their facilities and resources turned toward the production of war goods.

Try as you might, you'll never find a 1943 or 1944 automobile to restore, because none were built. From early 1942 through late 1945, all automobile manufacturers were engaged in producing components or vehicles for the war effort, including ships and airplanes.

Other areas of life were also interrupted in ways not seen before or since.

Blackouts designed to obscure populated areas at night, huge factories with their roofs disguised as flat ground, and restrictions on speech were common ways of preventing enemy discovery of our vulnerabilities.

Posters warned that “Loose Lips Sink Ships,” and soldiers' letters home were literally censored – with a pair of scissors.

Yet all of this was taken in stride and understood to be necessary to win the war – a war, by the way, that we had not encouraged and had not taken part in until we were directly attacked.

So what on earth has happened since the 1940s that has caused so many Americans to think that a dire national emergency such as the pandemic should not be handled in an all-encompassing, unified manner controlled from the top by the best-informed and most fully engaged specialists – elected by us in most cases?

To be sure, even the most capable leaders, both during a war and during a pandemic, will be uncertain of the final outcome and of interim changes of direction.

Imperfect humans, indeed, may make errors in strategy. But a unified and committed front always has the advantage over a plethora of views and approaches, with each participant charting his own course.

And I want to make it clear that your parents and grandparents did suffer under all of the restrictions they faced during World War II.

They had their own opinions, which may have varied widely, but they understood why we had to make those short-term sacrifices for our own long-term survival.

Had masks and vaccinations been the order of the day, the vast majority would have lined up – most often without complaint.

It is not too late to unify against COVID-19.


Richard B. Hatch is a Fort Wayne resident.

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