As coronavirus wraps around the globe, causing school and business closures, erratic economic swings and a critical toilet paper shortage, some have compared the ongoing struggle to contain the virus to a warlike effort. Like in the great wars of history, governments and private entities are dedicating mammoth amounts of resources and manpower to eradicate the illness.
For Americans, the last time this nation undertook such a monumental fear was during World War II, when practically every facet of American society was retooled to participate in the war effort. General Motors and Ford plants were transformed so that they could produce tanks, planes, guns, engines and other machines necessary to wage war. The North Carolina Shipbuilding Company in Wilmington went from producing cargo ships to cranking out “Liberty ships” — large, quickly built vessels that helped transport goods and men across the Atlantic.
Amid the current epidemic, facilities have been similarly retrofitted to help take down the coronavirus. The Brooks Brothers factory in Garland, N.C. is being converted into a mask production facility, and a Durham distillery has gone from making spirits to making sanitizer. Home-stuck North Carolinians have turned to making homemade masks, much like how women and children collected and sent in metal, cloth or any other type of scrap to be used for war production.
Over the past several weeks, grocery store shelves have been completely cleared of toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, meats and non-perishable goods, creating an atmosphere of scarcity. Similarly, during World War II, North Carolinian families faced scarcity due to wartime rationing. Due to the military’s need for things like oil, aluminum, rubber and nylon, civilian usage of these items became heavily restricted.
“Meat, coffee, sugar, butter, and shoes were rationed to meet military needs,” wrote Julian M. Pleasants in his book “Home Front: North Carolina during World War II.” “These restrictions were especially galling to many Americans because they involved some of the basics of the good life — meat, sugar and coffee.”