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Opinion: What the Greatest Generation had that the Covid generation lacks

November 18, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

From WWII to Covid-19, Americans have always been slow to make sacrifices, says historian Nicole Hemmer; she debunks as myth the nostalgia today for the Greatest Generation's response to wartime privation. Americans are no more selfish in 2020 than they were in the 1940s, she contends; the difference between the two moments is about national leadership, not national character.

And though airports and highways won't be as packed as years past, many Americans are heading into the holiday without the appropriate concern about Covid-19, despite warnings from public health officials that Thanksgiving celebrations could become superspreader events.

That same call for the sacrificial spirit of the Greatest Generation has echoed across the media landscape, as both a rallying cry and a censure: urging Americans to sacrifice to save lives and deploring how selfish we have become.

During World War II, Americans dealt with government rationing for the first time.

Government officials in charge of rationing were well aware that many Americans wouldn't play by the rules, and so early on decided not to go after individual scofflaws, focusing on black-market suppliers instead.

It wasn't just goods that Americans were unwilling to sacrifice during the war — it was comfort, too.

That's not a knock on Americans during World War II but rather a recognition that personal sacrifice for community benefit is incredibly difficult.

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