America has lost its sense of collective good

Published 4:55 pm Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Post-World War II America was quite different than the country we inhabit today. American still had the “can do” attitude that defeated Nazi Germany, its Fascist ally Italy and the Japanese imperialists.

Gearing up for and shouldering the massive effort that was needed to become the world’s most powerful nation in war and later, in peace, required the active participation, or at least the acquiescence, of the vast majority of Americans. Whether it was the work by millions of Americans in assembly lines or the sacrifice made by troops on the battlefield, most of the nation was involved positively in the war effort.

There were self-centered people back then, to be sure. Some skirted rationing rules, and others sold raw materials on the black market, thus made a financial killing while the war was killing their neighbors.

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For the most part, though, Americans pulled together, and when the war ended, a spirit of optimism and patriotism prevailed.

That spirit included a willingness to work together in solving national issues, including efforts to eradicate communicable diseases. People had a sense of community, of wanting to help each other get through tough times and tough issues.

My generation well remembers lining up on Sunday after church to walk through a clinic sponsored by the local Health Department and swallowing a sugar cube laced with polio vaccine. Polio vaccination was close to 100% in the U.S., and that deadly virus was essentially eradicated.

Many of us still carry tiny scars on our upper arms that were left by the live vaccine with which we were pricked — not shot — to protect against smallpox.

And when many of us joined, or were drafted into, the military, we were lined up to file through a large gymnasium where Navy Corpsmen and Army Medics stood waiting with shot “guns” to vaccinate us against multiple potential contagions. As we walked through, we were shot in both arms, often at the same time, and told to keep moving. There was no debate of individual rights. We were all in it together and expected to protect the community around us.

Throughout much of the past century, vaccinations have been required of children entering public school. They are aimed at protecting the children and, in some instances, their classmates, from diphtheria, meningitis, polio, measles and more.

During the last 40 years, Americans have become far more focused on their individual sensitivities, wants, likes and dislikes, and society has become accustomed to pandering to those who whine about their right to dissent.

Thus, here we are. A pandemic has “officially” taken the lives of more than 580,000 Americans, and quite probably has killed or contributed to the deaths of closer to a million, according to epidemiologists. Now, we are on the cusp of controlling, if not eliminating, the COVID-19 virus and its variants, and a significant portion of our population is whining that they don’t want to be vaccinated.

And in America today, there is no will to force the issue. In fact, COVID vaccination has become, astonishingly, the latest cultural battleground, with a disturbing number of vaccination opponents openly defying the common sense of vaccinating the general public. It’s literally a battle over whether to protect our neighbors or not, with a significant number of people saying, no, they won’t.

The Republican-dominated Florida legislature even enacted a law that prohibits businesses, schools and governmental entities throughout that state from asking someone to provide proof of having been vaccinated. A parent living in Florida thus cannot determine whether their child is entering a school where teachers and staff have been vaccinated. Nor can an employer who has hundreds of employees working shoulder to shoulder in an assembly line even inquire whether those employees have been vaccinated.

Americans understandably take their individual liberty seriously, but up until now, we have always taken protection of the community seriously as well. If a person wants to smoke, they are allowed to, but in most parts of the country today, they are expected to do it where their smoke doesn’t end up in the lungs of others. Not so with COVID. You want to be a carrier of this deadly disease? It seems you will be able to and those around you will be none the wiser, until they become infected.

While those who have been vaccinated seem to be quite safe even from COVID carriers, epidemiologists have said that unless we get 70% or more of the public vaccinated, even more dangerous variants of the virus have a better chance of getting a foothold. Why on earth would anyone want to leave themselves and their neighbors open to that prospect?


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is