The invisible enemy
America was reluctant. As the scourge of fascism spread across the globe in the late 1930’s, the United States hesitated to get involved in foreign wars, preferring, instead, isolationism. It was a policy with no future. Germany soon invaded Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Japan invaded China and the Phillipines. The United States, officially neutral, tried, futilely, to help its allies. In the end, the Japanese bombing of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor made military involvement inescapable. The United States declared war on not just Japan, but, three days later, Germany and Italy. A previously divided nation entered a global struggle with a single resolve.
That conflict had its cost. Nationally, the country lost 291,557 soldiers. This included 7,038 from Wisconsin and 152 who called Marathon County home.
The war effort against the Axis Powers did not all happen on the front lines. Regular citizens did their part. With the Japanese controlling rubber plantations in Asia, Americans salvaged rubber tires for the Armed Forces. People likewise salvaged steel, paper and rags. They rationed goods. It was common for people to stand in long lines to buy a bag of sugar. And people raised money for the war effort. They sold war bonds to their neighbors.
Today, the country faces a much more deadly opponent, although one that is invisible to the naked eye. It is COVID-19.
It is an easily transmissible disease that brings on a range of flu symptoms, everything from a mere headache to severe lung dysfunction and, most commonly in the older and frail population, death. The entire world is battling this illness.
To date, the country has failed to confront the disease. Instead, like during the turmoil prior to World War II, the country has fought internally over what to do. The coronavirus fight has become politically divisive.
A comparison between the battle against fascism and the coronavirus is not so far-fetched. When American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt was confronted with the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, he likened it to a disease, suggesting that peace-loving nations should think about sending aggressor nations into “quarantine.”
This past week, Marathon County had its 100th COVID-19 victim (according to state statistics for confirmed and probable coronavirus fatalities).
We consider this terrible, awful event not just a sad statistic, but what should be a Pearl Harbor event for people to put aside disagreements and fight this virus. The lives of county residents, the local economy and the ability of children to attend school are all on the line. Our freedom is on the line.
It would be helpful if we had a government to direct a coordinated fight against COVID-19, but that’s not the case. The federal government’s efforts are a mess. The state government is ineffective. County government is weak, unable to meet the challenge. Supervisors can’t pass an ordinance. In this paralysis, the local hospitals fill up with coronavirus patients and the death toll mounts.
This leaves regular citizens to fight this battle, but we can do it. We all know what to do. Wear a mask. Avoid large gatherings. Wash your hands. Stay home if you are sick.
We share a common history. Our uncles, fathers and grandfathers stormed the beaches of Normandy to strike a blow against fascism. In their victory, we, as Americans, won. But let us not forget who stood behind those boys. It was regular Americans willing to sacrifice for a common cause.
We need a little bit of that spirit today in taking on the coronavirus. It is a war that isn’t just about doctors, nurses and other frontline workers. It is about all of us. Together, we can lick an invisible enemy.