The experts are determined to impress on us, in their oft-repeated warnings, that things are going to get worse before they get better. History and the recorded observations of those who have lived through similar world upheavals and disruptions of what was once “normal” living, convince us to accept their forecasts and nod in agreement.
Not that any of us have lived and survived a pandemic as vast and uncaring as COVID-19. But, there are more than a few of us who survived the cataclysms of the Great Depression of the 1930s and a worldwide war in the 1940s that ended with two man-made thunderclaps over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
They say more than 200,000 died in such a fearful way in just two air raids and we started to believe mankind would never again embark on such a mass suicidal end to life on earth. Some of us still hold to that belief, although our faith has been sorely tested over the years.
Nervous though our journey was, I don’t think anyone ever thought there would come a day when the world would be turned upside down by an invisible virus capable of defying man’s greatest scientists. Powerful enough to circle the world unseen and unknown. Powerful enough to force people into virtual isolation; to stop aircraft from flying and ships from sailing; to force the closure of stores and suspend what for centuries had been the natural and essential course of commerce.
And to kill at will. The medical experts and the frontline warriors standing between the virus and its victims assure us they will eventually find an answer, but stress that we must help by avoiding personal contact by maintaining six to 10 feet of separation when we meet to talk.
Over and over again, they tell us we cannot, must not give up these disciplines, and that things are going to get worse before they get better. And they, the doctors and the political leaders faced with a problem they maybe should have recognized sooner, tell us the virus will claim 200,000-plus before we can begin to guess where the end may lie.
Citizens of my generation remember the courage and self-sacrifice we were asked to make during the Second World War to preserve our democratic freedoms. And, some of us remember the cold, uncaring, merciless behaviour of so many who looted and stole from neighbours and government aid programs.
When announcing his programs of financial relief for workers losing jobs or small businesses losing everything, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned would-be con artists not to scam the relief benefits. When caught, he promised swift justice.
Maybe someone had acquainted him with the case of Englishman Walter Handy, who claimed government compensation for being bombed out 19 times in five months during WWII. He got three years in jail for betraying what should have been loyalty to fellow country pledged in common cause.
A major player in the UK looting and black-market game was Billy Hill, who spent a few short terms in jail. He hired a ghostwriter to tell his life story, “Boss of Britain’s Underworld” (1955). He once boasted he didn’t just make use of the black market, “I fed it.” He became quite a wealthy man.
There were not many Billy Hills, but there were thousands of God-fearing, law-respecting Britishers who gave every appearance of total loyalty to a nation’s call for sacrifice but didn’t mind a bit of profit from breaking the rules here and there.
It is not fondly remembered that by wars end in 1945 there were more than 114,000 prosecutions for black-market trading and looting. Some for minor offences, many for major crimes, a few for murder. Some from stripping rings and other jewelry from corpses to emptying homes of anything that could be easily moved while a family took shelter during an air aid.
The crimes became so prevalent that the UK government made a few punishment revisions to various laws as wartime expedients. For example, a guilty party could be sentenced to death or life in prison for looting.
No one ever was. It was deemed unwise to let those faithfully embracing Winston Churchill’s challenge of living with “blood, sweat, toil and tears” know all their brothers and sisters were not like-minded.
Which leaves me wondering how we are going to do overall as we are asked to make relatively small sacrifices today? We are told they will make a difference in the fight to slow down, even halt COVID-19 until we can find a cure.
Do we care, enough? Or would it better to ask: Do we care at all?