A government poster and Newsday pages from 1942, when gas...

A government poster and Newsday pages from 1942, when gas was being rationed during the war.

When COVID-19 shortages began, as soon as the lockdown started in 2020, the hoarding was ugly and immediate.

Men, women and children tussled over masks, 48-packs of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, wipes and canned goods, and that’s just at my house.

Much of the problem was supply-chain oriented, thanks to changes in lifestyle. There was not a shortage of toilet paper: There was a shortage of household-size rolls. Warehouses were bursting with enormous rolls of the horrible wax-paper style product used in schools and businesses, but that didn’t help at home.

It doesn’t help anywhere, really.

The same was true of food shortages. The problem wasn’t just that we were eating more, bored and depressed, having never realized how poorly we’d raised our children until we saw them 24/7. It was that those locust-like children usually got many calories at schools and suddenly-shuttered restaurants, and so did adults.

All that passed, or went to intermission. Now we have post-COVID shortages and Ukrainian war shortages. There are no cars or washing machines, and no employees to pamper us at bars and restaurants and stores, and no affordable houses. Prices of everything except the stocks in our 401(k)s are up, and gas stations are hiring grief counselors.

Many are being tremendous babies about this, and that’s not just a 2020s thing.

The nation’s World War I attempts at rationing were jolly “we’re all in this together” non-mandatory pleas from Washington to grow “Victory gardens” and use less of what soldiers in Europe needed, via pushes like “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays.”

But with World War II came mandated rationing. Gasoline was the first thing limited, but there was no gas shortage. The shortage was rubber for tires, but the government could only get Americans to stop driving by rationing gasoline: Most car owners were allotted just three gallons a week, but there were ways to cheat, and according to Newsday, many did.

Sugar was rationed, and so was coffee, and meats, canned fish, butter (remember margarine), cheese, and canned milk. Women gave up their stockings and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese gained popularity, selling over 50 million boxes during the war, because it could be bought with so few ration points, which is similar to why we ate it so much in college.

And in both those wars, old newspapers report, many Americans complied cheerfully, believing good deeds made them active partners in the war effort. But some were furious, or didn’t care about the war effort, or cared but not enough to deny themselves the delights of butter or canned fish.

That’s what we are seeing now with our friends and in our families, in stores, and at gas stations.

To some of us often-nostalgic older folks, it seems humans were better back in the day. To some of us often-hopeful young people fixated on the unfair societal rules and norms of the past, it seems people are better now.

But people are just people, always, good and bad, most of us living up to our better angels in some ways, giving in to devilish impulse in others.

It would be wonderful to move us all toward the kinder and gentler and away from the selfish and harsh. I don’t know how.

But banning commercial-grade toilet paper couldn’t hurt.

Columnist Lane Filler’s opinions are his own.


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