Like very few times in our history, Americans are being asked to sacrifice for the greater good, by changing their lives, in big ways and small, to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

This time, there are no Americans dying on far-off battlefields. But there are some who will get sick and die, alone, and health care workers who will be exposed, overworked and traumatized, if we don’t all give up something and pull in the same direction.

And there will be millions of people hurt by the economic devastation the pandemic has wrought, if the right things aren’t done to alleviate it.

On this Memorial Day, the usual commemorations and celebrations will be diminished, if not missing altogether, over fears of COVID-19.

But we can honor the memories of everyone who has fallen in defense of our country by embracing the selfless sacrifice they embodied, and pledging to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

We’ve done it before, even on such large scale.

The idea of the “home front” emerged in Britain during World War I, as the demands of modern war called for broad sacrifice. No longer would life back home go on as normal while soldiers went away to fight, and many to die.

In World War II, every American was called on to participate in the war effort. They rationed gas, food and clothing. They scrapped metal and rubber, and bought war bonds. They grew victory gardens — 20 million of them by 1945, when they produced the equivalent of 40% of all fresh fruit and vegetables.

It worked because Americans recognized the threat posed by the advancing Axis armies, and that nothing less than a total effort would do. Those who could not put their lives on the line could instead offer their time, sweat and comfort, and for the most part they did so gladly.

In many important ways, the coronavirus isn’t anything like Nazi Germany. Health care providers, food processors and other “essential” workers are not soldiers in a war — they did not sign up to put themselves in danger, and they should not have to.

And wearing a mask sometimes and watching how close you get to other people is not the same as working long hours in a munition factory, or having to cut back drastically on the meat, coffee, gasoline and sugar you use.

Fortunately, while there is a lot of attention given to those who don’t, most Americans recognize the threat posed by COVID-19 and are willing to make sacrifices. The vast majority have worn a mask in public to protect others, across all age levels and political affiliations.

By far, most Americans know inconveniences and discomforts are nothing when people are sick or mourning the dead, or they are being to asked to work in unsafe conditions, or they’re out of work and wondering when the next paycheck will come.

There is lot of uncertainty and no easy answers. The disease will not just go away, and the economy will not simply turn back on. The path ahead will be by turns hopeful and frustrating, comforting and unsettling, inspiring and tragic.

This Memorial Day, disease and a ravaged economy are challenging Americans like something few alive have ever seen. We’ve been up to such challenges before, and we can meet this one as well.

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