Is anyone else thinking about the Berlin Airlift? It is one of the great stories of American audacity in the face of political thuggery.
In case you’re too young to remember, after World War II, the United States was part of the Allied occupation of Berlin, which had been bombed into rubble. Berlin had been ground zero for the rise of Hitler, and in 1948 the streets still echoed with the cheers of Germans who had helped usher the Fuhrer into power.
One of the other occupiers was Stalin’s Soviet Union. With no warning, on June 24, 1948, Stalin moved to take over control of West Berlin and push out the U.S., France and England. Stalin precipitously blocked all access to the city, shutting down the rail lines, roads and canal access. The plan was to lock down and starve the Berliners until the U.S. backed off so the Soviets could take control of the city, with further designs on the rest of Germany.
It was the first macro-aggression of what would become known as the Cold War.
American forces had slogged through three years of bloody warfare in Europe. Some U.S. leaders called for an aggressive response, but President Harry Truman found another way. Under the leadership of General Lucius D. Clay, American forces began an airlift of supplies to West Berlin. Every day, planes landed bringing food, medicine and fuel — overall, more than 2 million tons of goods for Berliners over 15 months. On Sept. 30, 1949, Stalin gave up and lifted the blockade. Not a shot was fired.
I feel inspired by this bit of history because it speaks to America’s ability to rise up to a threat. Ingenuity and courage are homegrown assets, and we never needed these strengths more than we do today.
Our new enemy is Covid-19, which for reasons we all know is rampaging through our cities and states, killing people in increasing numbers and threatening our well-being and our prosperity. We need to dig deep and summon the bravery to win this war.
We are the victims of missed opportunities to better control the spread of the virus. We missed the chance to get ahead of the firestorm, but we still have agency. Every single one of us can still do the simple, effective things: wear a mask when near other people, maintain social distance and wait for the promising vaccines to become available. Don’t gather at parties or bars or family events. It won’t be forever, and it might save someone you love.
This Thanksgiving, I believe we must accept the sacrifice of a simpler occasion, without expecting family to board planes or sit around a table set for 15 or 20. We can do this. We can do it this year in the hope that next year we can be thankful for lives saved.
During World War II, there were four years of Thanksgivings marked by deprivation, loss and empty chairs. From the accounts I’ve read, people didn’t complain; it would have been unpatriotic, considering the sacrifices being made by soldiers in the eye of the storm. Butter and gasoline were rationed, some years turkeys were scarce, and people were asked not to book trains so as to save seats for soldiers on furlough.
We are in the throes of a catastrophic pandemic that is ruining lives and taking lives from coast to coast, north and south. We don’t know exactly how or when it will end, but we must do what we can to stop the spread. The courage is in doing the right thing, one foot in front of the other, without knowing for sure what lies ahead.
When American pilots took off for the first flight into West Berlin in 1948, they didn’t know if they would be doing the run for a week or a year or 10 years. They didn’t know how long they could keep up the supply line, but they did it the first day, and they kept flying until the Soviets caved. We need to do what our medical experts and our president-elect are telling us to do: Find the grace to think of others. Don’t gather with groups of family and friends. Have a good-enough Thanksgiving on our own, with the comforting compensation of knowing we are serving the common good, all of us Americans, fighting this fight together.
Copyright 2020 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.