Most of us have never experienced anything like the current COVID-19 pandemic in our lifetimes.
The closest analogy many people think of in connection with the pandemic is that of a war. Indeed, a number of individuals have likened it to World War II, when citizens encountered danger, the fear of the unknown and had to do without so many staples to which they were accustomed.
As an octogenarian who was a young boy during WWII, I find that to be an apt analogy. Government instructions to heed social distancing warnings and to stay at home remind me of warnings to stay indoors, especially at night, during WWII and to keep our thick green window shades down so the enemy could not see our house lights. New Britain, with its many factories, was a center of manufacturing of critical items for the war effort, and the city was mindful of being a potential target of the enemy.
Other Connecticut cities have also witnessed eerie coronavirus-related scenes conjuring up comparisons to World War II. For example, a recent photograph I saw in the news of the majestic and gothic Yale University Payne Whitney gymnasium transformed into a temporary hospital reminded me of other photographs I had seen of the historic Yale Old Campus, generally associated with freedom of movement and joyful times, having been transformed into a military training ground with tanks and trucks during the second World War.
The shortage of several much sought-after household items and foodstuffs during this COVID-19 crisis and the way stores are rationing them brings back memories of the shortage of similar items during the war. At that time, ration books were issued to families which the families utilized to get their share of the essential foodstuffs and materials.
Many of the items were hard to come by. However, when we couldn’t find something on the grocery store shelf, we often knew how to find it where it was manufactured.
A friend recently reminded me of the Bell Bread Baking Co. on Winter Street, just a little east of Main Street, and very close to my home on Clark Street. I vividly remember my trips there where loaves of bread were sold upon request at retail. We all knew when the bread was ready, as the tantalizing aroma of freshly baked bread would waft throughout the neighborhood and permeate every room of every apartment in every tenement. (The bakery had another fascination for the kids in the neighborhood, as each loaf contained a collectible wartime trading card, much like baseball trading cards found in bubble gum packs, except they contained images of some of the military equipment with which we were going to win the war.)
Even as kids, we were grateful for all the civilians who were providing goods and services for us during the war, including postal workers, medical and other caregivers, retailers, public safety personnel and so many others. That is also true today during the COVID-19 crisis. While most of us stay at home, these folks venture out risking danger and infection to provide vital services.
During WWII, we kids were especially fascinated with our bombers, fighter planes naval ships and tanks and most importantly were filled with admiration for our service men and women who were fighting the war. (Yes, New Britain had many women who proudly served, including my beloved Sunday School teacher, who enlisted in the WAVES). I and most of my young friends were eager to do anything we as children could do to help them.
One such effort was saving the silver-colored foil wrapping or lining on our chewing gum stick wrappers so they could be rolled into aluminum for the war effort. We would peel off the foil lining from the wrappers and wad them into a ball of aluminum so they could be used for production of war materials. As little as we were, we wanted to do our part!
One day, as a group of the neighborhood kids congregated on North Street, as we were accustomed to do when permitted, I saw another child thoughtlessly toss his “valuable” foil-lined chewing gum wrapper into the street, only to be severely chided by one of the neighborhood tough kids whom I had never heard say a productive or supportive thing before. “Hey, what are you doing?” the tough kid bellowed. “Save them wrappers. We need them for our soldiers. We ain’t never gonna win this war unless we all do our part.”
Just as we put our hope in our brave service men and women and our government leaders during WWII, so too are we today putting our hope in our leaders (well, maybe not all of them) and especially the dedicated scientists who are tirelessly working all over the world to win the war against this dreaded virus by discovering successful treatments and vaccines.
There may not be a great deal that most of us can do as individuals to bring this pandemic to an end. At a minimum, we must listen to our governmental and scientific leaders and heed their instructions: “Wash your hands, keep your ‘social distance,’ stay home, disinfect surfaces, don’t touch your face.” While these actions by themselves might not seem very heroic or able to do much during such a worldwide crisis, they are in the aggregate extremely important. They can make a huge difference, especially if everyone takes these things seriously. Careless actions by just one person can have disastrous results for so many.
In the final analysis, while his grammar left much to be desired, I don’t believe anyone can say it better than did wiry little ragamuffin tough kid on North Street more than 75 years ago in the midst of World War II: “We ain’t never gonna win this war unless we all do our part.”
Mazadoorian has lived in the area his whole life. He has served as New Britain’s corporation counsel and as chairman of the American Savings Foundation board among his contributions to the community. He is the distinguished senior fellow at Quinnipiac Law School’s Center on Dispute Resolution.