Saturday, August 22, 2020

Coronavirus: Americans’ Independent Streak Began in WWII

One New York Times commentator suggested that anti-mask advocates would’ve spent World War Two shining their headlight beams into the sky to liberate America from civil defense blackouts. They practically did. Through the middle of 1942, bright beachfront lights illuminated silhouettes of American coastal Merchant ships. The leisure economy was back, fueled by war exports to Europe and Nationalist China, and resort owners were loath to give it up. Americans were offended by the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, but were not yet in the mood for national sacrifice.

 Sheer losses of merchant ships along the East Coast changed the tune. Attacks by Nazi U-Boats began in 1941 before the US entered the War, and peaked in early 1942. Referencing the sinking of dozens of unarmed coastwise tankers, a poster proclaimed to motorists: “Think- Sailors have died to give you this ride”.

Despite the grim loss of life, rationing of coffee, alarm clocks, and sliced bread was lifted quickly upon popular demand. As pointed out by Kelly Cantrell in a dissertation, magazines during the War listed recipes with unrationed substitutes, such as corn syrup for sugar; but also featured lavish recipes- which were practically illegal on the basis of strict ration points. To produce a traditional Christmas feast, it was necessary to pool with another family, stockpile canned goods (against government policy), or purchase on the black market.

In contrast to Britons’ stiff upper lips in the face of Blitzkrieg bombings, Americans have a long tradition of flouting the rules, and it was certainly not limited to members of one political ideology.   

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