Remembering one war while we fight another

May 3, 2020
By

This Friday May 8th, marks the seventy fifth anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. VE Day. The day that the lights truly did go on again.

After almost six years of an evil not seen since Genghis Khan, (1162 to 1227), Adolf Hitler was dead and peace was at hand.

By the time General Alfred Jodl, signed the unconditional surrender of German forces military and civilian deaths are estimated as high as eight million.

The Soviet Union saw it’s population from 1940 level drop by almost fourteen percent. Between battle, famine and disease, over 26 million Russians lost their lives.

In just the months from June, 1944 (D Day) to May, 1945 over one hundred thousand United States troops were never to breathe again.

And the world was only beginning to learn of the horror that was the Holocaust.

While it would take another three months and two atom bombs to at last bring peace to the planet as a whole, the eighth of May, Nineteen Hundred and Forty Five gave humanity a reason to believe it still had a chance. A reason to believe that good really could triumph over evil.

That after what in the beginning had seemed to many a hopeless fight had in the end provided a legacy for the future of the greatest fights of all, of freedom over fascism, right over wrong.

VE day also marks the day that America assumed her role as super power. With Europe in shambles, the era of empires such as Great Britain’s ending, the United States was the only nation left to quite frankly put the world back together.

In the past three quarters of a century, the men and woman who lived those times would set the parameters for the second half of the 20th century and pass on to their heirs a free and proud America to start the 21st.

That greatest generation saw events unfold from what in ’45 was barely science fiction to functional technological realities at a pace unimaginable at the time.

From Armstrong’s “one giant leap”, to the micro chip and the personal computer, to the life saving drugs and medical advancements, the world today is indeed a world far, far away from that time not so long ago.

Yet here we are. For as much as has been accomplished in the past seventy five years, we now today find ourselves reminded once again just how fragile this thing we call life, actually is.

In less than five months we have watched in agony as a virus escaped from China has raced around the world infecting millions and leaving over two hundred thousand dead with no end in sight.

An economy that just two months ago was one of the best in American history and the envy of the world is now heading towards self-imposed recession and teetering on the brink of all out depression.

It may not be tanks and planes and troops marching off to war, but we are at war none the less. A war that in one aspect is worse than the military conflict. Because this war is pitting us against ourselves. To mask or not to mask. Shelter in or open up. Social distance or herd immunity. Those with jobs, the 26 million now without.

In previous times, times not that long ago, I could easily write that “we’ve been through worse, we’ll get through this”. And while I have no doubt we will get through this, for the first time in my life I worry about what’s on the other side.

COVID 19 is pushing a society that was already politically polarized to a point of no return.

Yes, there are pockets of good; General Motors and its ventilator re-tooling, Ford as well, along with face masks and respirators, the entire U.S. textile industry turning out personal protective equipment and Abbot labs and others scaling up for testing,

There are also pockets of anything but good. Especially in the area of arbitrary stay at home orders and some state governors clearly over-reaching. Washington banned fishing and golf. California is filling skate parks with sand. In Michigan you couldn’t even buy seeds to plant your own garden.

Since our founding there has always been a push and pull between individual rights and the collective good. As states begin to open up expect that push and pull to become more pronounced.

While we continue to fight the virus in these coming months, we must also remember to stay ever vigilant that temporary policies implemented in this first battle remain just that: temporary.

The Greatest Generation did not sacrifice for our freedoms then only to see us toss them aside out of fear of a virus today.

PUBLISHER NOTE:  A version of this column first appeared in the May 3, 2020 print edition of the Joplin Globe.

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