Failing the Test
By Patrick F. Cannon
When this country was forced to go to war on December 7, 1941, not only was much of our Navy destroyed that Sunday morning in Hawaii, but our Army would be unable to put any meaningful number of troops in the field for nearly a year. But the American people were aroused, and together did whatever was necessary to win the war.
I was only three years and nine months old that day, but clearly remember the things we and other families did to support the war effort. There was food rationing of course. I remember – when I got a bit older – being sent to the nearby grocery store with a written list and a ration book. If you made bacon or other fat producing meats, you saved the fat in a container; when it was full, it went back to the butcher to be turned in to the Army to provide glycerin for explosive production.
Tin foil was saved, as were scrap metals of all kinds. People turned in their aluminum pots and pans, which were needed for aircraft production. My father, although he had three children, tried to enlist, but had flat feet and was turned down. But because he was a city councilman, he did get a bit more rationed gasoline, so occasionally we would go for a Sunday drive. I remember being awed by the recently-opened Pennsylvania Turnpike, the first of its kind in the country.
In 1940, there were 132 million Americans. Sixteen million of them – mostly men – served in one of the armed services. There were over a million casualties, including 407,000 killed in action. Almost everyone else was somehow involved in the war effort. As an example, Americans produced 300,000 airplanes, 50,000 tanks and 1,150 warships of all types; oh, and 34 million tons of merchant ships. Of course, there were some draft dodgers, profiteers and black marketeers, but the vast majority our citizens were behind the war effort.
Contrast this national effort with today’s response to the pandemic and practically every other challenge we face. As of Monday, 580,000 Americans have died of the virus, yet only some 35 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, and there remain significant numbers of our fellow citizens who refuse to be vaccinated because they claim it impinges on some vague principal of “personal freedom.” In fact, this refusal is basically a political statement. When the public health becomes political, when ones “freedom” is more important than ones neighbor’s health and even his life, we have gone far from the kind of unity that won the war.
Frankly, I don’t see much immediate hope for a country that is so profoundly divided. The far left and right are too entrenched in their equally radical ideas. The center no longer holds. Until it becomes strong enough to actually influence events, we’re stuck, really, really stuck.
Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon