Apocalypse lite

I recently commented to my wife that our world is beginning to look uncomfortably like the 1930s. Not that I remember that decade from personal experience (my children are convinced that Moses and I used to hang out together), but I was a history major as an undergraduate and specialized in modern history.
Admittedly, the similarities to the 1930s are only on the surface: an economy that is performing weakly, appeasement of a radical, totalitarian, expansionistic and repressively anti-Semitic regime by the leaders of the west, while anti-Semitism grows in virulence elsewhere, joined with the widespread persecution of Christians in many regions of the Middle East. Okay, that last part is not at all like the 1930s—well, if we leave out the Armenian genocide—since that happened before the 1930s. Tyrants who tell us that they hate us and want us dead are really at heart reasonable people who just want to live in harmony and teach the world to sing.
Sigh. While history doesn’t really repeat itself, one does recognize a certain tendency for people to keep making the same mistakes.
And of course there are the apologists for the extremists among the politicians and academics and journalists of the West. Once again, all “right thinking” people are meant to understand that the alternative to appeasement is war and who wants war, after all? That’s what everyone argued in the 1930s. People like Winston Churchill, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness,” were just horrible warmongers for warning against the tyrants. Of course, the 1930s ended with the 1940s and a war more terrible than it needed to be proving the “warmongers” right after all.
It is easy to become apocalyptic in one’s fear of the future, to imagine that western civilization is doomed and that we’re in our twilight years. I think such pessimism is misguided and frankly ridiculous. As I said, I was a history major, and thus I have some perspective that comes from that academic choice. Yes, the 1930s were dark years and what followed them was horrific—but the West ultimately triumphed.
When people tell me that the United States, for instance, is facing a worse crises now than ever before, and that our civilization is bankrupt, decadent and failing, I’m tempted to laugh. The worst thing that the United States ever endured was the Civil War between 1861-1865. The years leading up to it saw horrible, depraved behavior; the citizens of the country were at each other’s throats. Leadership was poor. And then we tore ourselves apart on bloody battlefields where more Americans died than in all our other wars combined. We nearly destroyed ourselves over a grievous sin more horrific than any of the sins that modern right-wing pundits deplore—and yet we survived and prospered and have become the dominant world power that we are today.
Certainly the West may face dark days ahead. Horrific things may happen to us. But Western Civilization is strong enough to survive and prosper. Our current crop of politicians in the United States in both major political parties are incompetent and ineffective. My mother—at 83—is so furious that she refuses to donate money anymore when her political party calls asking for donations (she used to give money to them all the time). Now she berates them over the phone for their stupidity and ineffectiveness; she tells them she’ll give them money when they start doing their jobs.
I can’t say I blame her: I look at all the politicians on both sides of the aisle and I simply shake my head. Still, we’ve been here before, surrounded by incompetence and venality and corruption and focused on the inconsequential while we stand on the brink of disaster—and always before we somehow not only muddle through, but rise to triumph. We’ll do it again; we always have and I see no reason to think we won’t manage to survive and prosper again. I just fear it will be painful and a lot of people will suffer and die unnecessarily. One would think we didn’t need to suffer the fools of the world first and to face disaster, before we do something—but that’s also been our pattern throughout our history.
The West will survive the current crop of schlemiels we have as supposed leaders. It would simply be nice if we didn’t have to get punched in the gut first before we do what’s right, before we face reality, before the western leaders awaken from their delusions and see the dangers for what they are. You would have thought that September 11, 2001 would have been enough.
The story is told of a judge who was notorious for being lenient with criminals, who was always willing to give them a second chance. One day he was accosted, beaten up, and robbed of all his cash. A reporter found him as he was leaving the hospital and asked him if his recent experience would have any effect on his judgments.
“Of course not,” he said.
An old woman who happened to be standing nearby stared at him with open mouth and then muttered, “Then someone should mug him again.”
One wonders how many times our western leaders will have to be mugged. Apparently it hasn’t been often enough yet.