Close this search box.


Essay: “Enemies Then and Now” by Jack Sanders

Read this essay by local historian Jack Sanders in which he compares today's invisible virus to an equally invisible threat during World War II.

Problems we are dealing with today are similar to problems our parents and grandparents faced in World War II.

In fact, in many ways, they had it worse.

Recalling those war years may help put today in perspective and give us hope in dealing with our own war.

Yes, we are at war, just as their era was at war. Our enemy, however, are microscopic molecules while theirs were human beings. We are trying to kill a virus, they were trying to kill people. Fighting “germs” seems better than fighting our fellow human beings.

We fear an invisible virus, but Americans in World War II feared an equally invisible threat. There was constant concern about the enemy’s attacking. For most of the war, Ridgefield volunteers staffed an airplane spotting tower on East Ridge, 24/7, believing the Nazis might start dropping bombs on the U.S. as they did on England. Shorelines were on constant alert for a possible invasion from the sea. Spies and saboteurs might be anywhere. There were air raids, bomb shelters, and blackouts. Posters and ads bombarded the public with all sorts of scary warnings.

Then, too, families were constantly worried over the welfare of loved ones — sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sisters and brothers, friends and neighbors — who were in the service, putting their lives on the line for their country.

And there was also the uncertainty. Just as no one today seems to know how long the virus threat will last, Americans in the early 1940s had no sense of how long their war would go on.

We in our lock-down mode are dealing with many trials and tribulations that constrict our daily lives. The folks in Ridgefield during World War II also had to deal with many deprivations and limitations.

Probably the biggest difference between life then and now is socializing. While the opportunities were fewer, people in World War II could still gather in numbers. They could go to school, to movies, occasional concerts and bond rallies, and community meetings. While we are being discouraged or banned from such socializing today, we have the Internet’s connectivity to help us. It’s not as warm and friendly as a real-life gathering, but it allows us to instantly communicate with family and friends — even teachers — in ways people could not imagine in the 1940s. We also have television, amazing audio equipment and other forms of entertainment unavailable during World War II.

Few of us today can remember rationing and the hardships connected with it. You could not travel, much less buy a new car or even new tires or enough gasoline to get you much beyond the local stores. Today, traveling is restricted only by the fact that there are not as many places to go, unless they are outdoors.

One of the most trying of the tribulations for older Ridgefielders is not being able to visit with grandchildren, perhaps for many months. But think of the people during World War II who could not drive much beyond the town line — and did not have Facetime and other means of video-calling family near and far. They might not have been able to see grandchildren for years.

Even worse, consider the fathers — and some mothers — who went off to serve. Sixteen million Americans were in the military during World War II; many did not see their own families for more than a year. Men went off to combat when their children were burbling babies, not to return until the youngsters were walking and talking.

Today, at least, we are able to fight the viral war together as a family. In fact, that’s virtually an order. Thanks to the Internet, large numbers of parents are able to work at home. Some may consider it difficult with the kids around; others may consider it an opportunity to be close-knit when family togetherness is really needed.

In World War II homes, all kinds of ordinary items were severely limited — sugar, meat, butter, coffee, food oils, cheese, jams and jellies, canned milk, shoes, silk, nylon — remember nylon? — and even flashlight batteries were rationed. Except for a handful of panic-buying targets, almost any household product we need is still pretty readily available today.

People are losing jobs because of shutdowns. They did so also at the outset of World War II. However, under strong, enlightened leadership back then, the whole economy refocused to fight the war, and people who worked at one profession soon found themselves working at another. The same thing could happen today as some businesses shut down while others cry for help.

Finally, we are told the virus may be a threat for a year to 18 months. Our parents and grandparents lived through nearly four years of the fears and deprivations of World War II. In the process they became united in ways that had never been seen before, they overcame the enemy, and they wound up with a stronger nation.

If they could do it, we can, too.


More Posts

On Board with Phil Esser

Phil brings his extensive historic preservation experience to our organization helping us to safeguard significant buildings in town.

Send Us A Message

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list and receive updates, news, and invitations.

Visit Us

Ridgefield Historical Society
4 Sunset Lane
Ridgefield, CT 06877
Tel. (203) 438-5821

Follow Us


 © 2024 Ridgefield Historical Society, All Rights Reserved | Privacy Policy