Jewish World Review August 7, 2013/ 1 Elul, 5773
The 1930s and us
By Paul Greenberg
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | "Thank you for writing; I learn most from my critics."
A columnist soon learns to employ that phrase or one like it. For the best response to an irate reader is a polite one, and this standard reply has the additional advantage of being true. For anyone so presumptuous as to inflict his views on an innocent public is bound to learn some useful, even surprising, things from his readers.
Just the other day I learned how clear the issues confronting our policymakers were in the 1930s, when the Japanese were on the march in
Our choices were quite simple back then, according to my valued correspondent, as opposed to the more complicated ones now facing this administration in these more complex times, which demand a more sophisticated approach to foreign affairs. A nuanced approach, to use the current term of art for indecision.
My critic made it clear he was getting tired of my habit of making historical analogies to the 1930s -- pretty darned tired:
"Again you have compared our lack of involvement in the Syrian Civil War to the appeasement of Hitler in the '30s. As a student of history, I find this analogy faulty in the extreme. Doing so, you are comparing things that involved peoples, issues, regions and time periods that were very different. What happened in the '30s was very straightforward. It involved Hitler and his plans for
Who knew the issues in the Thirties were so simple and easy to understand, and our choices so clear? And indeed they were -- viewed almost a century later. Time lends perspective. It clears away the hurlyburly of a pressing present and wraps it all up in a neat package called the past. For now we know how the story came out. But back then, did all Americans -- whether isolationists or interventionists (then called internationalists) -- find the choices facing this country so clear?
Did all Americans agree about what was happening in the Spanish Civil War, or what to do about the tide of refugees fleeing for their lives across
Talk about Sunnis and Shi'a, Islamists and secularists, dictators and democrats in the
Should we have backed the Finns when they were invaded by the Russians, making them natural allies of Nazi
Did all Americans agree, even after we were pulled into the Second World War, that we should or should not deal with Vichy France? See the Darlan Affair and the furor over whether General Eisenhower made the right decision in the North African campaign (Operation Torch) when he chose to deal with Admiral Darlan rather than arrest him.
What about Franco's
Should we have supported Communist Russia and, if so, before or after the Hitler-Stalin Pact was signed?
Did all Americans back in the 1930s agree that the series of Neutrality Acts passed during that decade to Keep Us Out of War needed to be respected, or that they needed to be repealed? What about the undeclared naval war against Nazi
And talk about government snooping: Our secretary of war,
Does his attitude then remind anyone else of today's foofaraw over the
I, too, get tired of historical analogies, but what's a columnist to do when they're so striking? Our divisions seem just as sharp in these polarized times, and our leaders just as divided and wavering, as they were in the 1930s.
Here's hoping my critic is appeased, to use a term the Thirties pretty much discredited, and that this explanation finds him in good health -- and certainly in better shape than his simplified history of that decade.
I am indebted to another reader for pointing out that a quotation in my column on the 60th anniversary of the armistice in Korea, "Retreat, hell! We're not retreating, we're just advancing in a different direction," should have been attributed to Major General
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