From World War I to World War II, the span of not that many years, the world went from planes that delivered grenades (by pilots tossing them over the side) to planes that delivered tons of bombs. It was a massive shift in destructive power.
In his book The End is Always Near, Dan Carlin talks about how the Nazis initially used their airforce in the London Blitz to knock the city and the country into submission. Interestingly though, the bombings had the opposite effect. Rather than demoralize the populace and drive them to call for an end to the war, it unified Londoners.
Interestingly, when the tide shifted, and the allies had the upper-hand, they took the same approach to Germany. They thought they could bomb the country into submission. But the effect was similar in Germany. While the destruction was immense, it didn't break the spirit of the people, but gave them something to unify around.
Community of Sufferers
Charles Fritz was a sociologist who studied the impact of disasters on mental health. He looked at numerous disasters and how they impacted the mental health of those involved. He wrote about his experience in World War II:
"By 1943, the British had already endured five years of war. They had not only experienced the direct effects of the bombing and the damaging effects on people and the physical environment; they had also been subjected to severe shortages of housing, food, clothing, and essential public services. Those problems were compounded by the arrival of six to eight million American and Allied servicemen and the ensuing overcrowding and added strains on public services and the British economy. Under those conditions, one might expect to find a nation of panicky, war weary people, embittered by the death and injuries to their family members and friends, resentful over their prolonged life style deprivations, anxious and disillusioned about the future, and, more generally, exhibiting personal and social behaviors indicating a state of low morale and esprit de corps. But those expectations proved to be totally false. Instead, what one found was a nation of gloriously happy people, enjoying life to the fullest, exhibiting a sense of gaiety and love of life that was truly remarkable. The traditional British class distinctions had largely disappeared. People who had never spoken to each other before the war, now engaged in warm, caring personal relations; they spoke openly with one another about their cares, fears, and hopes; and they gladly shared their scarce supplies with others who had greater needs. Despite the fact that American and other Allied servicemen might have been resented for adding more competition for scarce resources, they were warmly welcomed into British homes, where they found a home-away-from home atmosphere that assuaged their loneliness for their own home and family."
He also found something similar in Germany. Morale was higher in heavily bombed cities compared with lightly bombed cities. The bombings had brought people together.
Fritz described this as disasters forming a "community of sufferers." And as they researched other disasters, they found that this community was consistent wherever there was a disaster. As in London, social structures broke down and new communities were formed around the new suffering.
In his book Tribe, Sebastian Junger touches on a similar theme. We all need to belong, and our modern world has made that more difficult, except in more extreme situations.
"Humans don't mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.”
We're in the middle of a worldwide unifying cause with Covid-19, with the health and economic implications it has for all of us. It is hardship on a global scale and a compressed timeline like we haven't seen in generations.
So how can we continue to pull together as a society and as communities? How can we use this unifying cause to build our communities and strengthen our tribes, whether that is our families, friends, companies, or other groups? What can each of us be doing? This is increasingly important not only as the virus peaks, but also as we continue to see the economic tolls rise.
Right now there is a lot of isolation, a lot of suffering, and a lot of difficulty. So making that better and coming together like we've done in the past will be key to winning this new war and emerging stronger.
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