While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
-Irving Berlin, introduction to “God Bless America”
Composer Irving Berlin penned those words as an introduction to the patriotic song “God Bless America” in 1938. In that year, Americans surely felt the need for God’s blessings.
As Berlin noted, war clouds were gathering across both oceans that lapped at America’s shores. Beyond the Atlantic, Adolf Hitler has assumed power in Nazi Germany and began to rebuild the German military in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. That year Germany annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland as other European leaders followed a policy of appeasement. Kristallnacht, a night of coordinated attacks and pogroms against German Jews also took place in 1938.
To the west, across the Pacific, Japan was also violating the London Naval Treaty which restricted the number of warships in its Navy. Japan had already captured Manchuria and Shanghai in China and was attempting to conquer the rest of the country. In 1938, Japan announced its intention to form a New Order for East Asia and to dominate the region.
By 1938, Josef Stalin had turned the Soviet Union into a police state. In power since the death of Lenin in 1922, Stalin had already purged the Soviet Union not only of his enemies and foreign immigrants (including thousands of Americans who had fled the Great Depression), but many of his allies and innocent people as well. Stalin’s policies also led to massive crop failures and famines that killed hundreds of thousands more.
In 1938, the situation at home was not well for the United States either. The Great Depression had begun in 1929 and had worsened under the watch of President Franklin Roosevelt. By 1938, Roosevelt’s policies of tax increases, high levels of government spending, and more regulation on business had turned a slow recovery into a second recession within the depression. The country’s economic difficulties spurred strict immigration laws and an isolationist foreign policy.
Georgians of 1938 were battered not only by the Great Depression, but by depressed cotton and tobacco prices. The state was primarily agricultural at that time with little industry. With a lower cost of labor than northern cities, Georgia’s cities fared somewhat better.
In many ways, the world and America of 2011 strongly resembles the world and America of 1938. Hostile dictatorships are rising around the world as our federal government attempts to legislate its way out of an economic crisis that was caused in part by reckless legislation in the first place.
The most obvious threats are in the Middle East. President Ahmadinejad of Iran is nearing the end of a nearly decade long push to develop nuclear weapons. Iran recently unveiled underground missile silos that reportedly accommodate medium- and long-range nuclear missiles that could possibly reach Israel or beyond to Europe… or possibly even the United States.
There is little doubt of Iran’s hostility to the United States. In June 2011, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that Iran is renewing arms shipments to Shiite terror groups in Iraq as American soldiers prepare to withdraw. Gates attributes forty percent of U.S. troop deaths over the past ten months to the Iranian arms shipments.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union twenty years ago, the Russian Empire is now resurgent under Vladimir Putin. Putin has reversed many of Russia’s democratic reforms and killed and imprisoned dissidents and journalists, both at home and abroad. In a case worthy of a James Bond film, Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian agent living in exile in the U.K., was poisoned with a radioactive substance. It is widely suspected that Litvinenko was murdered on Putin’s orders.
Putin has also leaned on other countries. He has attempted to strong-arm the Ukraine and has cut off the flow of gas through pipelines from Russia. Putin’s Russia is also suspected of using poison to try to assassinate Viktor Yushchenko, then a Ukrainian presidential candidate. The poison left Yushchenko’s face scarred, but he survived and is president of the Ukraine today.
More overtly, Putin’s Russia invaded the central Asian country of Georgia in 2008. Russia captured two disputed areas in Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and occupies them to this day. Putin, who was director of the Federal Security Bureau, the successor agency to the K.G.B., is also widely considered to be largely responsible for the brutal Second Chechen War. Under Putin, Russia has also been beaming slickly produced propaganda to the U.S. via the RT television network.
To be continued in “Lessons from 1938”
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