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The slow re-opening of Siloam Springs' economy coincided with the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. I couldn't help but wonder what the 20-year-olds who fought that war would think of us.

The causes of the economic depression they experienced in the 1930s are still debated. The cause of the economic depression descending on us is clear: A combination of panic, shallow sentimentality and groupthink.

The dangers faced by the men flying missions over Tokyo and Berlin were greater than anything most of us can imagine. The danger the large majority of us face from the coronavirus is, and always has been, low. The average age of 30 people listed in Sunday's newspaper as having died from the virus is 78 years. The average life expectancy in Arkansas is 74. We could have protected the elderly without wrecking society.

We knew two months ago that healthy children faced a minimal risk. Yet, drowning in fright and sentimentalism, we derailed whatever schooling they were getting. Far worse, we gave them the life-long memory of adults cowering in anxiety and ruining the country's economy, and therefore the kids' own future -- and all for no good reason.

I think of those young men at Normandy and Iwo Jima running into machine-gun fire, and I can't help feeling shame and embarrassment at what we've witnessed these past eight weeks. In late March it may have made sense to tape off the kids' playground at Bob Henry Park. But why does this petty tyranny continue well into May? Why are the joggers and teenagers practicing hurdles still locked out of the middle school track?

As of now, our overlords allow us go to the gym and get our hair cut. But the people who worked at Waffle House, Pieology, Rib Crib and other sit-down eateries remain in a hard place. As for downtown, one merchant tells me, "It's a mess." Another says, "It's been devastating." The heart breaks, but the nonsense continues. Why have we submitted to this? Who, if anyone, is speaking for Siloam Springs?

An item in Sunday's newspaper reports that a "man arrested in January after an armed robbery and shooting has been arrested again for burglary after being released from jail" as part of an effort to "limit the risk of the covid-19 virus at the Washington County Detention Center." Unemployment and misery for you, in other words, but compassion for felons. I wonder if I'm the only one who thinks it's dangerous when leaders at all levels begin to look like the enemy.

There will be a long, grim accounting. We'll have a full sense of this in a few months. But some things we already know. Tens of millions of jobs, including hundreds in Siloam Springs, are lost. Many thousands of lives are yet to be lost, ended by dispirited people crushed by shut-down mandates. At-risk students will have disappeared from the school rolls. We'll learn about the abuse that took place in homes inhabited by people who, cooped up for weeks, drove one another mad. Drug addiction rates and associated crimes will rise. Trust in government at all levels will have plummeted to perilously low numbers.

And some percentage of people who were in the habit of attending church are now out of the habit. Whatever else church attendance does, it tends to strengthen the social fabric. Expect further social fraying.

We admire the WWII generation. Unfortunately, admiration is out of reach for us -- participants in the costliest mass hysteria in the history of earth. But we can do the right thing and apologize to the young. We can apologize for our stubborn mindlessness in the face of this virus. We can apologize for our economic self-sabotage, for setting such a disastrous example, for failing to live as a wise and free people.

-- Preston Jones is a Siloam Springs resident and history professor. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 05/13/2020

Print Headline: A long, grim accounting

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