After the attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR declared war on Japan and we entered WWII, putting America on a war footing until the surrender of Japan in August of 1945. For the duration of that war, Americans were asked to do many things to support the country, including rationing gas, recycling metal and foregoing many food items. Though not all agreed with the US role in WWII, most people united behind the president and joined the war effort by following the recommendations, buying war bonds and planting victory gardens.

After 9/11, President Bush, along with the Congress, ramped up security measures ranging from watering down of Fourth Amendment rights to enhancing airport screening. The Bush administration changed Clinton’s concept of community policing to a military policing mindset, even providing local police departments with war equipment. Officer Friendly became The Enforcer in far too many cities. The administration kept people so terrified of foreign terrorists, they were willing to give up many privacy rights for so-called security. Despite the concerns of millions of Americans, the USA Patriot Act is still with us today.

When the COVID virus first appeared in the U.S. one year ago, America faced a new enemy, and President Trump on March 18, 2020, declared himself a wartime president. He used the Defense Protection Act to push some companies to provide respirators and made a grand show of financing a public-private partnership to create vaccines. Beyond that, he asked nothing of anyone, and by April he was engaged in spreading misinformation and playing down the severity of the virus. He failed to establish a coordinated federal response for the allocation of resources, leaving states to compete against each other. He undermined the medical experts and gave credence to unproven treatments and conspiracy theories about the virus. He attacked the governors of various states who attempted to address the pandemic on their own.

Trump, by making this a political issue rather than a scientific challenge, left people fighting each other, rather than pulling together to defeat this invisible, yet deadly, enemy. The simple safeguards we could have all done to slow the spread of this virus were maligned as taking away “our freedoms.” We were given the false choice between keeping the economy healthy and keeping ourselves healthy. We could have done both with a united effort.

It was not curtailing our freedom to be asked to wear a face covering, stay six feet away from people and not gather in large groups. There was no rationing, no loss of Constitutional rights. As a result of the complete lack of competent federal leadership, we are now approaching a death toll of 400,000, nearly equal to the entire loss of American lives from WWII.

The media, which could have been used to unite and protect us, was misused to confuse us. No one questioned if Pearl Harbor actually happened as reported. Sixty years later we watched, endlessly, the twin towers collapse. Yet, millions of people were persuaded that the COVID virus wasn’t a real threat, and the scientists and doctors were wrong, despite seeing massive evidence of illness and deaths. Multiple credible news outlets the world over reported in detail, with pictures, the effects of the pandemic. What will become of a country when a president, who because he didn’t want to deal with the truth, lead so many people to equate the ravings of conspiracy theorists with legitimate news? 419,000 people died during the four years of WWII, and we’ve honored their sacrifice ever since. When we pass that number of deaths in one year of the COVID virus, will we even notice?

Susan Chichetto lives in Bath.

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