The coronavirus pandemic has produced analogies to the conflict that, while imperfect, have provided symmetry to a message that the United States drilled into the public in the 1940s — everyone has a role to play in a collective struggle, and individual choices that feel small can later snowball into grim consequences.
Army Capt. Victoria Kositz watched the comparisons hum on social media and, in apparent exasperation of what the analogies had left out, created a stylized poster for the pandemic age.
It didn’t take long for others to chime in, creating more than a dozen vintage poster spinoffs that highlighted the work and dangers that doctors and nurses have faced.
“If anyone else wants to make WW2 propaganda posters but with health care workers and other essential labor, please add to the thread,” Kositz wrote Tuesday. “Not like we’ve got anywhere else to be.”
Brian Wilson, 35, a former firefighter-EMT who deployed to Iraq with the National Guard as a combat medic, ran with the idea while social distancing at his home in Houston.
“The World War II mentality was that everybody had to come together,” he told The Washington Post on Thursday. “The fact that I can swap these out and have the same message is fascinating.”
Coronavirus is a nearly invisible enemy without a banner, a barely alive, spiky orb one-thousandth the width of an eyelash wide. There is no treaty on the horizon. Its drive, if you can call a deadly infection that, is purely biological, not ideological.
But some other comparisons to conflict make sense, Wilson said.
It has become clear that the virus, which has killed at least 1,000 people in the United States and ground civil society to a halt, has forced Americans to settle in for a long bout of uncertainty — giving rise to how everyone can be part of some solution.
Perhaps you can sew masks in a knitting group amid a crisis-level shortage of protective gear, pick up groceries for an elderly neighbor or host video learning for children.
Other posters Wilson and others made, like those from World War II before them, force a feeling of guilt and selfishness after individual choices.
Wasting food and not donating scrap metal harmed the war effort, posters in the 1940s scolded. Now it’s not washing your hands and going outside, Wilson said.
The pandemic has also given rise to new champions of public service. Doctors and nurses have been heralded for their dangerous and unforgiving work in a way that has been mostly reserved for combat troops and veterans.
“Are our health care professionals going to be the new soldiers?” Wilson asked.
Watching health workers rise to the challenge from home has been difficult for Wilson, whose EMT and medic service spurred him into community building with veterans.
But he found another way to contribute. He is wrapping up the first year at the South Texas College of Law and is among the oldest in his class. Many younger students are new to Houston and struggling with how to adjust in a new place under extraordinary circumstances.
“I’m the adopted uncle,” he said. “So I’m keeping tabs on them, more or less figuring out what the new normal is.”