During my years in journalism, one of my jobs was as editor and publisher of The Hays Daily News.
One day, a student working on a master’s in history visited the newspaper to share his research for his master’s thesis, which focused on the history of the newspaper.
Frank Motz founded the Hays Daily News in 1929, not long after the stock market crashed. I had always assumed the 1930s were tough for Motz and his young newspaper, but his research showed that the years during World War II were even tougher.
Regrettably, I don’t remember the student’s name, and I didn’t keep notes on his research, but it was a revelation.
Many businesses in non-defense sectors struggled during World War II to find and keep workers.
And businesses such as newspapers were hit hard by rationing – of gasoline and paper, for example. At the same time, most businesses stopped or reduced their advertising. Stores had limited merchandise, and consumers were by law severely restricted in what they could buy.
Meat, sugar, shoes, tires and fuel were just a few items on the long list of what was legally rationed.
Every American was affected.
Did those Americans whine and scream about their rights and government overreach?
I’m sure some of them did. Just as some of them violated rationing laws by buying things on black markets that thrived during the war. Some also defied blackout rules at night, or avoided the draft.
But most Americans understood the need for sacrifice, largely because there was a consistent, coordinated message from federal and state officials.
Today’s threat from COVID-19 is different from the threat posed by Nazi Germany, Italy and Japan. But the pandemic does raise questions about whether Americans in 2020 are willing to sacrifice even a little for the collective good.
Many who oppose government mandates for face masks and social distancing argue that it’s not an issue of sacrifice; they say they oppose the rules on principle.
That explanation doesn’t fly.
First, few to none of the conservatives complaining about masks voiced any objections when the federal government restricted our rights to travel freely abroad.
And there was barely a peep of dissent from conservatives when President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act, a war-related law that coerces businesses to produce certain goods for the government.
For many Americans, political affiliation – not principle – makes the difference when deciding whether a government action is warranted or is an egregious overreach.
Some Republicans encourage this partisan tripe as a way to rally voters in an election year.
Not all Republicans are willing to exploit a dangerous pandemic for political gain. Some have supported mandatory use of masks. Some, such as Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, are late to the game, but have decided that masks and other restrictions are necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Kansas is among many states struggling to keep COVID-19 under control, a necessity if we want to open schools, resume business and regain jobs. It won’t happen without masks for much of the state.
It’s time we understood that we won’t be returning to the old "normal." Not anytime soon, anyway.
Just as Americans adjusted during World War II, we need to adopt measures that allow us to safely work, learn and play in a changed world.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in California, Indiana and New York, as well as across Kansas.