So, one of my retirement projects has been to read every issue of LIFE magazine. Yeah, I definitely have way to much time on my hands. Anyway, I’ve worked my way through the first ten years, beginning with the November 23, 1936 issue.
It’s actually been a pretty fascinating journey. The depression era heartaches, the massive government sponsored building projects, the rise of Hitler and Japan as war clouds gathered, the war that really could have gone either way (at least in the beginning when there was very little popular support for American involvement) the politics, and other interesting cultural insights into “the greatest generation.”
What I particularly enjoy is reading about these historical events in real time. No one of course knew at that time where current events would lead. But I did, and watching everything unfold, the blunders and mistakes and also the things we got right, is quite an enjoyable exercise. The “what ifs” of 20th century history still reverberate today.
20-20 hindsight is a gift the leaders of the time did not possess, but it’s still fun to speculate on what might have been. Hitler’s war aims could have been thwarted with courage and early intervention. Perhaps war with Japan was inevitable, but with better preparation and foresight (i.e. a stronger defense of the Philippines), the carnage in the Pacific could certainly have been lessened. The Soviet Union’s domination of Eastern Europe could have been stopped if we had been willing to take a hard line stance. Had we better supported the Nationalist army, it is likely China would not be Communist today. And lord knows in hindsight we would never have allowed the Soviets to occupy Korea north of the arbitrarily drawn 38th parallel.
But I suppose we did the best we could given what was known at the time. Looking at the past for insights into the future is always fraught with peril. Nevertheless, as I read about the past I can’t help but overlay those events with what I see taking place in the world today.
Most disturbing to me is the rise of China, which in many ways reminds me of Imperial Japan in the 1930s. The saber rattling and claims to territorial dominance (as in claims to control of the South China Sea) make me wonder if China might invoke Japan’s idea of a “greater Asia co-prosperity sphere” free of Western influence.
Similarly, in many ways Iran’s attempts to dominate the Middle East, it’s desire to attain nuclear capabilities, and it’s stated intent to destroy Israel, are reminiscent of the goals on Nazi Germany.
I can’t help but wonder how future events will unfold as American power (both economic and military) are waning under the inept leadership of our President and our corrupt political class. Do we have the will the stand against evil that was demonstrated by our parents and grandparents?
I guess that question will be answered someday by some wag with nothing better to do than read periodicals from the early 21st century.
Places I Go
John McCrarey: That's the plan. It