Who says history doesn't repeat itself?
We are about to end the first quarter of 2020, where did those months go?
At the beginning of January, we were coming to terms with the drought and the biggest bushfire
season in the history of the country. Clean water was one issue on my mind, not to mention climate
change including the climate change deniers.
Friends we knew had started hoarding water in case there was a drinking water shortage. I thought
that’s odd. Then I heard the talk about town there was ash in the dams and that ash may contain all
sorts of contaminates, not just from burnt trees, but from the hundreds of properties burnt to the
Maybe our friends were right to hoard? But this is Australia, we don’t hoard.
My husband who is a lawyer rides a scooter and one day in January he had to appear in court and
rode the 15 to 20 minutes it takes to get from our place to the court in Goulburn Street. He rode
through an intense smoke haze and ended up suffering from a bad bout of asthma. However, it was
less the asthma that ended up being his problem, it was a viral infection he contracted because of
the impurities in the smoke.
He fully recovered and when he did, he bought a mask, which he has worn when he rides his
scooter. At first, he felt a bit of nerd, but it did the trick. That mask was made in Europe. The guy at
the bike shop had imported a bunch and was selling them for $30 which at the time seemed over
the top. The thing is, the mask came with an outer and inner mask which could be replaced. The guy
said it was better than masks one could get here but not perfect. My husband now wishes he had
spent big and bought one for me and some for our family and friends. Aren’t we often wise after the
event? Now masks are as rare as toilet paper.
In December, the first outbreak of Coronavirus was detected in Wuhan, China but not confirmed
until January. Late in January the first traveller from Wuhan developed the virus and was
hospitalised in Melbourne. Not long after another case was detected in NSW. As late as 28 January,
Brendan Murphy, Chief Medical Officer for the Australian Government advised “there is no need for
the Australian public to wear masks” because there had been no human-to-human transmission in
Australia. He went on to say, “the only people who should wear masks in relation to the virus are
those who are unwell and have a relevant travel history.”
Well Brendan, the rest is history. This made me think a bit more. How did people in the past contend
with viruses and say war? Did they change their lives when contending with traumatic events?
There were about 40 million casualties in World War 1 of which between 20 to 22 million people
died. On top of the war in 1918, there was a flu pandemic. After some research I learned a lot more
about World War 1 which I previously did not know but which now have a familiar ring.
During the war years there were food shortages as a result of rationing being introduced. People
suffered malnutrition and the incidence of tuberculosis grew exponentially. Some say this was a
result of doctors being called to attend to the needs of the military rather than civilians. I could not
find anything about the lack of toilet paper.
I did learn social cohesion and organisational skills were put to the test. There was also a great
reliance on maintaining morale. Does this all sound familiar?
Measures were taken to bolster morale, a sense of duty, social cohesion and people were
encouraged to overcome complaints and deal with the difficulties.
In those days there were other issues such as class, gender, ethnic minorities, not to mention issues
that were urban or rural based. These issues resulted in the drawing of an imaginary curve of
optimism, pessimism, indifference or even anger. We seem to be back to a world of imaginary
curves over 100 years later.
In the early days of the war, governments and newspapers created the “myth” of collective
enthusiasm to justify the declaration of war and impose a social and political truth. In almost every
country writers, journalists and intellectuals contributed to the formation of wartime public opinion
or even manipulated the spirits, with so-called brain washing. Also, newspapers published news
provided by governments, exalted patriotism, denigrated the enemy and encouraged civilians to
participate in the war effort. Now we have the 24/7 news cycle.
In addition, during wartime, “morale” was synonymous with “morality”. Censorship was also
connected to the “seriousness of the times”, implying control over the individual and the collective
behaviour and entertainment in order to preserve the war effort and quickly changing societal
News about the progress of the war became very important just as news about the virus is.
Defeats resulted in lows whilst victories resulted in a lifting of sombre moods. Propaganda and
censorship also played important roles that effected public mood.
Growing losses and economic pressures impacted on tall tales and untruths propagated by
governments and newspapers. The war dominated people’s thoughts.
Popular endurance assumed that the state would provide for the combatants and their families. Just
as we assume the governments will deal with our worldwide crisis.
Remember too World War 1 was the war to end all wars so said governments.
Everyone hoped the war would end soon but as the years passed people found they must adjust
their wishes and accept reality.
Remember too, the war influenced trade and people had to adjust to scarcity and manage the little
money they had, spending it wisely as the circumstances presented themselves. As the years past,
the war seemed endless and the weariness resulted in a deterioration of morale and created
disillusionment and social tensions.
It was during the war that women raised their voices and men had to begin to listen. Women
believed they had become entitled to new rights. They protested to overcome inequality and
advocated for peace. The working class also started to strike for better working conditions. These
protests and strikes were moral in character, revolving around material issues such as wages, food
and working conditions. People were regaining their identities. Let’s not lose our identities.
Another interesting fact was industrial mobilisation and state controls which were generally
accepted in return for adequate distribution of food supplies and collective bargaining agreements.
Unlike many European countries, in Australia unions and rural organisations refused to support
compulsory conscription. Many of the strikes and protests were spontaneous and led by women. In
those days, governments learned that the incapacity to solve the food crisis and to fight against the
black market delegitimised authorities, undermined consumers’ moral and ultimately contributed to
disintegrate urban communities.
By November 1918, the longing for peace was so great that the winners and losers rejoiced because
they did not have to face war anymore. Also, after the war public opinion, emerged as a new force in
the political and social arena of every nation.
Remember we have rights. Like people before we can endure and come out of the other end better
people. We need to learn to live with uncertainty. Let’s remain fair minded and look after each
other. Stay healthy.