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World Leaders Turn to WWII to Inspire During Virus Crisis


In this Thursday, March 19, 2020, file photo, medical personnel work in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Brescia, Italy. World War II references are now heard daily because of the coronavirus crisis. (Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via AP, File)
World Leaders Turn to WWII to Inspire
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Many observers are making comparisons between the current worldwide spread of the coronavirus and the events of World War II.

The comparisons have appeared in recent days as the world faces possibly the most serious threat since the last truly international war. Several world leaders have called on people to show the fearlessness of those who lived through World War II.

Some people have warned of an “invisible enemy:” one that could cause death, damage the world’s economy and create social problems. Others say it is not helpful to make such comparisons and that they only add to the fear over the coronavirus.

The names, places and battles of World War II bring up many emotions: Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Places too can have emotions tied to them: Auschwitz, Pearl Harbor and Midway Island and Stalingrad. Events also can bring emotions: the siege of Leningrad, the German blitz of London, the Allied bombing of Dresden, and the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It is estimated that 85 million people died in WWII. The coronavirus has been blamed for tens of thousands of deaths.

Some people worry whether these comparisons are useful or just serve as a metaphor.

World leaders call to action

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was born ten years after World War II ended. She grew up in East Germany, a country at the time under the influence of the former Soviet Union.

Last week, she spoke to her countrymen on television. She said: “Since the Second World War — there has been no challenge to our nation that has demanded such… united action.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has called himself a ‘’wartime president.” He has used or said he would use the 70-year-old Defense Production Act to battle shortages of medical supplies and equipment like masks and ventilators. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and many media opinion writers have urged him to use the law.

Queen Elizabeth of Britain seemed to recall her young years during the war when she drove military vehicles in Britain.

“At times such as these, I am reminded that our nation’s history has been forged by people and communities coming together to work as one,” she said.

Italy has had more deaths than any other nation from the coronavirus so far. Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said on television Saturday that he was tightening the country’s restrictions on movement and closing everything except businesses that provide food and medicine.

“We are facing the most serious crisis that the country has experienced since World War II,” Conte said.

Rescue plans, employment and technology

Governments are reacting differently to the problems of keeping people working and important industries operating. Rescue plans started by several Western countries remind some people of the Marshall Plan. The Marshall plan was a $15-billion, American plan to rebuild Europe after the end of World War II.

Today, modern economies not only depend on financial resources but also on the internet to connect government services and businesses. Some people wonder what would happen if the internet collapsed. They say such a happening would be much like the use of an atom bomb, an event of unimaginable destruction.

I’m John Russell.

The Reuters News Agency reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

inspire– v. to make (someone) want to do something : to give (someone) an idea about what to do or create​

comparison– n. the act of looking at things to see if they are similar or different

metaphor– n. a word or phrase for one thing that is used to refer to another thing in order to show they are similar

siege– n. a situation in which soldiers or police officers surround a city, building, etc., in order to try to take control of it​

blitz– n. a very fast attack

countrymen– n. people who live in or come from the same country as you​

recall– v. to remember (something) from the past​

remind– v. to make (someone) think about something again : to cause (someone) to remember something​

challenge– n. to test the ability or skill of something

mask– n. a piece clothing that covers the mouth for protection

ventilator– n. a medical device that assists breathing

forge– v. to make or create

tighten– v. to increase restrictiveness

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