Articles – The Centre for Independent Studies

Channel past generations’ stoicism

Tom Switzer

22 January 2021 | Ideas@theCentre

We all know 2020 will go down as a terrible year: a global pandemic with lives lost, a government-induced recession to fight the virus, enormous debt and deficits, business uncertainty, cancelled holidays, closed borders, families kept apart …

Concern about those issues is wholly understandable and we are right to focus on them. However, things could be worse.

Indeed, it may help us get through these dark days if the Australian people keep a sense of proportion by placing our angst in a broader global and historical context. For many nations, things are far worse and nothing on the horizon suggests we face sufferings of the kind that were commonplace generations ago.

Notwithstanding our troubles, we should remind ourselves that Australia has suffered 909 covid deaths.

This is tragic. But contrast this with Belgium (the headquarters of the EU). It has less than half of Australia’s population (11.5 million), yet has recorded more than 20 times more deaths (18,821 deaths). According to the Washington Post: “So many Belgians are sick or quarantining that there aren’t enough police on the streets, teachers in the classrooms or medical staff in hospitals.”

Or take the US (415,000 deaths), Britain (93,000), France (71,000), Spain (54,000), Italy (83,000), India (152,000), Brazil (212,000) or Indonesia (26,000). Throughout 2020, many of these nations (and states) imposed harsher lockdowns than Melbourne.

Now, step back and put our contemporary predicament in a broader historical context. This year’s health and economic troubles have looked pretty paltry alongside those of our grandparents and great-grand parents.

Those were the days of a world war (62,000 Australians were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed or taken prisoner), a much deadlier pandemic than COVID (we suffered more than 12,000 deaths during the Spanish influenza in 1918-19) and then a Great Depression (many did not find new employment until World War II).

Yes, the coronavirus crisis continues to threaten many Australians with distress and disappointments. Normal programming in our daily lives may not resume until late next year.

However, we should recognise that the sacrifices demanded from us have been infinitely smaller than those of past generations in crises of war and depression. And when this crisis is over, responsible governments should do everything to ensure a true return to normal.

If they fail, future historians may view the general prosperity and freedom we’ve taken for granted in recent decades as an aberration.

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