And You Think We Have it Tough
On May 9, 1940, Germany began the war on the western Front with the invasion of the Low Countries, which led to the invasion of France a short time later. On May 10th British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, resigned and was immediately replaced with Winston Churchill. Four days later, on May 13, Churchill stood before the House of Commons and gave his first speech as Prime Minister. The intent of that speech was to show to people of Britain and the world that he was certain they had the resolve to weather the Nazi storm that was coming and that they would willing to do the work and make the sacrifices necessary to lead Britain to victory.
He made the following promise to his listeners: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and suffering.”
An Englishman born in 1900 would have been 40 years old when Churchill gave that speech. During that man’s adulthood beginning at age 17, he would have probably served nearly two years in the trenches during World War I, the most horrific war in history up to that time. Even if he had not been wounded himself, he would have witnessed the wounding and killing of dozens of his friends in those trenches.
The he would have returned to England, happy that the War to End All Wars was over and that he had survived, only to face the greatest pandemic the world has ever known, the Spanish flu of 1918-1919. One quarter of the population of Britain came down with the Spanish flu. The death toll in Britain alone was 228,000. That’s one out of every 20 persons. Even if he did not get sick with the flu, he would have known fifty people who did get sick and he would have known ten who would have died, likely some in his own family.
Then ten years later the world entered into the Great Depression, which began in the United States. Britain’s economy was already struggling to pay for the costs of WWI. By 1930, when the depression was in full swing, exports had dropped off by 50% and 20% of the workforce was unemployed, 70% in some places. The national debt was 180% of the GDP (Right now U.S. debt is 80% of GDP, which is bad enough). During the 1930s he would have struggled mightily to feed his family.
Britain was just starting to come out of the Great Depression when Hitler invaded France in 1940. That forty year-old man would have listened to Churchill’s speech and prepared himself for what would be six more years of war, which would include hundreds of German bombing raids and later V-2 rocket attacks. By now his sons were old enough to go off to war. A significant number of their generation were going to be killed or wounded in Europe and in the Pacific.
I say all this just to put our current situation with the Coronavirus and the subsequent economic downturn into perspective. What we face is not an insurmountable problem. What the scientists and doctors are telling us about maintaining social distancing, staying at home, wearing masks, washing hands, and forsaking many of the fun things we have grown accustomed to enjoying – all that needs to be heeded. That’s just being smart. But we should not be of the mind that what we are enduring is terrible and unprecedented. That forty year-od Englishman would shake his head and call us a bunch of sissies.
The Bible has a lot to say about the necessity of believers to be willing to sacrifice for the good of others. It appears like this is a concept that is completely outside the psyche of many Americans. We are so wrapped up in the pursuit of our middle class and wealthier life-styles, the idea of having to live more humbly for a while so others can survive seems to be foreign to a significant portion of our population. I say “shame on them.”
With his “blood, toil, sweat, and tears” speech was preparing the British people for another stretch of hard time. He was letting them know that the years ahead were not going to be easy, but that in the end, Britain would emerge, battered and bruised and ready to move on. All it was going to take was cooperation and sacrifice.
That is what God asks of us. Think about other people for a change. Don’t assume our cushy middle class lifestyle with all its comforts, feasts, leisure time activities, and self-centered ambition is any kind of birthright. This is not how most of the world lives. If having to curtail my fun for a few months or even a year or two is what it takes to beat this thing, then that is what I will do. If I have to change some habits to protect myself and others, then I will change my habits. If this humbles me, good. If this causes me to have to become creative, good. If this causes me to have to look at the plight of the thousands of people who are really having to suffer through this and empathize, good.
I am pretty sure this is not gong to be anywhere near the catastrophe that was WWI, the Spanish flu pandemic, the Great Depression, or WWII. The generation that had to endure that thirty-year stretch had a right to complain. Yet they seldom did. They rolled up their sleeves and did what needed to be done. Theirs should be our example.
Now a shout out to the many people working on the front lines, doctors, nurses, technicians, EMTs, firemen, policemen, and others who are bearing the brunt of all this. The rest of us can stay home. These folks have to be out their face to face with those who may have the virus. Our prayers go out to them and others who are working essential jobs and have to deal with the public.
God bless you all. Remember that you are a child of the King and that Jesus loved you so much he died for you. Be a blessing to someone, today.