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Spirit of the greatest generation needed to defeat COVID-19

Americans should look to example of those who won WW II

During three and one-half years, Americans converted a peacetime economy to become the arsenal of democracy and win World War II. The “greatest generation” accomplished that because it had to be done, for the good of all humankind.

Now we as a nation face another challenge, of far less magnitude — and some Americans, including a few to whom we look for both political and scientific leadership, have already declared defeat.

The war against COVID-19 is not an existential struggle, but millions of lives are at stake, and not just from the coronavirus. Suspensions of manufacturing and other economic activity have occurred throughout the world as a result of the pandemic. Unless we “reopen” expeditiously, a global depression may occur. It could be as deadly as the disease itself.

One key to getting our economies back in action is increasing access to tests for COVID-19, both to identify people who have the virus and those who have recovered from it.

U.S. taxpayers already have put up $2.5 billion to fund a public-private partnership to develop new testing technology and manufacture kits.

Last week, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins expressed doubt the task can be completed by the end of summer. “I must tell you,” he told a group of U.S. senators, “that this is a stretch goal that goes well beyond what most experts think will be possible. … The scientific and logistical challenges are truly daunting.”

They are. To dispute that would be childishly unrealistic.

But to begin the campaign by waving a white flag would be both dangerous and, well, un-American. Giving up is not what we as a nation do.

In 1941, Americans mobilized for World War II in a spirit of angry patriotism. At the same time, a quiet, determined realism took hold. Government set goals for development of new technologies and manufacture of both war materials and other needs such as food and medicine. Then government worked with the private sector to eliminate obstacles — many of them inherent to the bureaucracy, it must be noted. Finally, Americans rolled up their sleeves and went to work.

And they did it.

Are we today made of the same stuff?

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