Social Distancing Won’t Happen Until Governments Order It

tags: public health, epidemics, Draft, World War 2, coronavirus, military mobilization, conscription, Selective Service

Edward J.K. Gitre is assistant professor of history at Virginia Tech. He teaches the history of World War II and is director of the digital history project, "The American Soldier in World War II."

It’s tempting to think that the most instructive antecedent of the covid-19 pandemic is another pandemic, in particular the Spanish influenza outbreak of 1918. But what countless pictures of Americans still crowding bars, restaurants and theme parks over the weekend (and beaches Monday) have shown is that to truly confront this threat we need to think bigger, to the greatest challenge the United States has had to face in the modern era, and yet overcame: World War II....

NBC radio network, on Aug. 10, 1940, broadcast an address from Sen. Carter Glass (D-Va.) defending the draft bill as “the most democratic way” of meeting the present crisis. “I am in favor of universal conscription, certainly in favor of the pending bill now before the Senate, because that equalizes that matter,” he asserted. “That is real democracy; that makes every individual, young and old, realize his responsibility and his duty, and not leave it to those who have spirit enough to volunteer.” 

Other supporters contended that the choice was not as stark as opponents asserted, that compulsory training was not anathema to American principles and traditions. As someone named James Roe wrote in a letter to the New York Times, “This universal obligation would do more to create a genuine physical and spiritual democracy, a commonwealth in which the emphasis is placed upon the citizen's duty and the individual's responsibility to the community rather than on privileges and rights and escapes. ”

The near destruction of the British Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain, followed by the German Luftwaffe’s direct aerial bombardment of British cities, brought home to Americans how dire the situation in Western Europe was. This probably tipped the American debate, and in mid-September, Congress passed — however reluctantly — the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, some 15 months before the United States would go to war.


Read entire article at Washington Post

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