There were 100,000 people killed – out of a population of 67 million. In the US, the country hardest hit by the virus, more than 420,000 have died out of a population of 330 million.
One hundred thousand dead. For perspective: That’s just over 3,000 more than witnessing England’s lone World Cup win in 1966 at Wembley Stadium when The Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon” topped the pop charts. And more than 30,000 spectators who gathered two decades later at the same famous venue for the Live Aid concert.
Here are some of Britain’s struggles with civilian deaths during World War II and since.
CALLING ‘BLITZ SPIRIT’?
In World War II, threats to Britain existed. During the 1940-1941 German Blitz, bombs rained down on London and other strategic cities. The disobedience, resilience and fortitude of the population during these months was known as “Spirit Blitz”.
This has been invoked during a series of crises over the years by the British government and politicians of various lines. The current crop, led by Winston Churchill-loving Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has used that as a mindset to combat the coronavirus crisis.
But folklore about that zeal is built on a healthy dose of propaganda to keep the British on their toes in their darkest hours. There is no 24/7 cable TV news detailing deaths, infections and scams, nor is there any social media peddling a conspiracy theory that the virus is all a hoax. However, there was disproportionate suffering at the time, as there is now, from those less fortunate in life to begin with.
Endurance has survived; What other options are there? But the only defiance that anyone but frontline workers has shown in 2021 appears to be primarily those of those who violate the lockdown guidelines, which they see as a violation of their personal freedom – thus jeopardizing the health of others.
DEATH OF CIVIL WORLD WAR II
“It’s far from me to paint a picture of a bright future. Indeed, I don’t think we should be justified in using anything but the darkest tones and colors while our people … are going through a dark and deadly valley, Wartime Leader. Churchill said at the time.
Such an image could resonate in the British Isles today as it battles a deadly wave of coronavirus mutations, placing the sacred National Health Service under the most severe stress since its founding in 1948.
In the final phase of the war from 1944-1945, the Nazi rocket campaign, particularly the V2, was deployed to its dire effect, with east and south London receiving the burdens of bombardment and death as they did during the Blitz. Thousands of civilians in residential communities died as a result of these V2 rocket attacks.
ATTACKS ON ENGLAND AND CIVIL CITIES
There have been other moments of the UK’s recent national trauma, particularly from the 1970s to before the pre-pandemic period. It is mainly based on attacks on civilians in the center of a large city.
There was an Irish Republican Army mainland campaign in response to the British Army’s military operations in Northern Ireland. It targets people in pubs, parks and shopping areas as well as government and representative buildings. Death is in the dozen.
The Pan Am 103 bombing over the Scottish town of Lockerbie a few days before Christmas 1988, by Libyan agents, claimed more than 40 British lives in the air and on the ground, as well as 190 Americans and victims from many other countries.
The second deadliest extremist attack came after Prime Minister Tony Blair’s ill-fated decision to join the war and the US-led occupation of Iraq. Local extremists inspired by al-Qaida attacked London’s transportation system on July 7, 2005, killing 52 people.
Islamic State group-inspired attacks in recent years claimed dozens of lives at several London locations as well as at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in 2017. ISIS was conquered in Iraq and Syria, and a spate of attacks abated in Britain’s Brexit, divisive and angry though most bloodless, then engulfed and divided the nation.
Then came the pandemic.
Tamer Fakahany is AP’s deputy director for global news coordination and has helped direct international coverage for AP for 18 years. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/tamerfakahany