Comparing Coronavirus and World War II

Many observers are comparing coronavirus and World War II. In particular, U.S. President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) evokes the Second World War when he calls himself a “wartime president.”

“I do, I actually do, I’m looking at it that way,” Trump told reporters on 18 March 2020. “I look at it, I view it as, in a sense, a wartime president. I mean, that’s what we’re fighting.”

To explain, Trump views the battle against coronavirus as war, Politico reports. Accordingly, Trump is deploying military resources including Navy hospital ships to American cities to fight coronavius.

Is the Battle Against Coronavirus World War III?

I think the comparisons are apt because the United States, Canada, and Europe are facing levels of disruption unseen since World War II.

Notably, North America has not not seen such widespread mass hysteria since the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 and 1942. Moreover, the level of unpreparedness rivals the lack of preparation for World War II.

Therefore examining the similarities between the Coronavirus and the beginning of World War II (1939-1942) can help us forecast where events could lead. I believe such comparisons are useful because the Allies won the Second World War despite a lack of preparation.

Comparing the Coronavirus Pandemic to World War II

Some interesting comparisons between the COVID-19 outbreak and the Second World include:

The British Conservative Party and the American Republicans

The U.S. Republican Party’s reaction to coronavirus is reminiscent of the British Conservative Party’s reaction to Nazism.

The British Conservatives spent six years (1933-1939) ignoring the Nazi threat. Dramatically, most Conservatives rallied to the defense of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his efforts to appease Adolph Hitler.

Moreover, the same Conservatives denounced Winston S. Churchill as a madman and a warmonger for warning about the Nazi threat and advocating military preparedness. For instance, the Conservatives kept Churchill; one of their most experienced leaders, out of the cabinet for almost a decade.

Comparatively, the Republicans refused to acknowledge the reality of Coronavirus. Incredibly, U.S. Representative Devin Nunes (R-California) said, “One of the things you can do, if you’re healthy, you and your family, it’s a great time to just go out and go to a local restaurant,” on 15 March 2020.

Nunes; the former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, made the statement on Fox News, Business Insider reports. Meanwhile, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (R) tweeted pictures of his family eating out in Oklahoma City on 14 March 2020.

Conservative Opposition  

British conservatives feared World War II because they; correctly, sensed another world war could destroy the traditional British society they loved.

Notably, World War II destroyed the British Empire and wrecked  the traditional social order in the United Kingdom. Ultimately, World War II smashed British society clearing the way for the Labour Welfare State and the rise of a new British culture in the 1950s and 1960s.

 Many American conservatives fear that social distancing and coronavirus containment efforts will destroy traditional American society. For instance, on 23 March 2020 Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R-Harris County) told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson “No one reached out to me and said, as a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren? And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.”

“I don’t want the whole country to be sacrificed,” Patrick said. I think Patrick’s comments echo the British Conservatives of the 1930s who did not want to sacrifice their country to save Europe from Hitler. Hitler, on the other hand, had other ideas.  

After the Fall of France, however, the Conservatives became Britain’s war party with a total dedication to Hitler’s destruction and Germany’s defeat. Dramatically, the Conservatives made Churchill Prime Minister in May 1940. The party that endorsed appeasement in 1938 refused to consider listening to peace proposals from anti-Nazi Germans in 1942 and 1943.

Similarly, Republican leaders; such as U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and President Trump, are proposing radical measures for dealing with Coronavirus. Romney, for example, proposed sending a $1,000 stimulus check to every American. President Trump and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are working to make Romney’s vision a reality, NBC News reports.

Mass Hysteria

The mass hysteria sweeping North America reminds of the hysteria in the United Kingdom in 1939 and in North America in late 1941 and 1942.

Many British people thought German bombers would destroy their cities within a few hours of the declaration of war. In reality, the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) did not have enough bombs or planes to inflict any damage on the United Kingdom in September 1939.

In fact, the Germans could not mount serious air attacks on England until after they had occupied France in June 1940. Yet in September 1939, His Majesty’s Government evacuated London’s children and distributed gas masks to British civilians. History shows the gas masks were a waste of time because there were no gas attacks in World War II.

Moreover, Hitler had to suspend his air war on the United Kingdom, because the Luftwaffe ran out of planes during the Battle of Britain. Hitler had to end the air attacks because the Royal Air Force (RAF) shot down large numbers of German bombers.

Likewise, North America saw a huge wave of mass hysteria after the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941. For instance, they moved the Rose Bowl to the East Coast out of fear of a Japanese attack. Additionally, both the United States and Canada imprisoned tens of thousands of people of Japanese descent out of fear of sabotage.

Imaginary Threats 

Yet in reality, there were no saboteurs. In fact, the Japanese had no professional spy organization and few agents in the United States in 1941. Yet Americans were frightened of Japanese spies and saboteurs.

Thus, the mass hysteria gripping North America now is nothing new. Our grandparents and great grandparents were just as hysterical in 1939 and 1941 as we are today.

For instance, many Americans believed the Japanese could bomb the West Coast in 1941. However, the Japanese had no planes capable of reaching the West Coast in 1941.

Similarly, many Americans feared German spies and sabotage on the East Coast. In reality, the Germans made no effort at sabotage in the United States until after Pearl Harbor. To elaborate, U-Boats landed a few German agents that the FBI rounded up fast.

Saboteurs caused no damage in North America in World War II despite a sabotage hysteria stirred up by Hollywood and the news media. In fact, “security measures” designed to prevent sabotage probably did more harm to the war effort than Axis agents. West Coast agricultural production fell because the government locked some of the best farmers; Japanese Americans,  up in internment camps. 

Therefore, some efforts to prevent Coronavirus could do more damage than the virus itself. The economic damage from hoarding, border crossings, and social distancing could be greater than the harm Coronavirus causes.


News reports show that many countries including the United States, Canada, and Italy were unprepared for Coronavirus.

The Trump administration disbanded the U.S. government’s pandemic response team in 2018, for instance. Additionally, America has shortages of necessary medical supplies including face masks, respirators, and protective gloves.

Likewise, in 1940, the United States had no intelligence agency or separate air force. Meanwhile, the British faced a massive shortage of war materials including ships, ammunition, bombs, and even rifles in the summer of 1940. In 1940, Churchill was literally begging for military aid, including destroyers from the United States.

Ironically, the only thing that saved Britain in the summer of 1940 was Germany’s similar lack of preparedness. German forces arrived at the English Channel with no landing craft to carry troops to Britain’s beaches, for instance.

Hence, a lot of World War II history is repeating itself in the Coronavirus pandemic. Therefore, we can learn how to fight COVID-19 by studying the history of the Second World War.