I don’t want to overdo the parallels, but there is now in
2015 a certain “channeling” another time in world
history, an average man’s lifetime ago, that is, in the
mid-to-late 1930s when world consciousness was
beginning to sense an imminent, sudden and
tremendous alteration in global human history.
In 1937, the cataclysmic traumas of World War I were
still fresh. The world powers at the time, the
largest nations of Europe, were in definite, if not
fully realized, decline. Two new political forms of violent
“direct action,” totalitarian fascism and totalitarian
communism, were recently gestated and suddenly on
Technology, too, had also upended 19th century
consciousness, itself disrupted by the industrial revolution,
and had accelerated the formation of mass urban societies,
especially in the developing worlds of Europe, North
America, and parts of Asia. The introduction of the
telegraph, mid-19th century, was followed in the late 19th
century by the telephone. In the post-World War I era,
radio and motion pictures had dramatically altered
The United States of America, then only 150 years old,
had been the first modern democratic republic, and an
early growing industrial force, but only after World War I
was it more obviously going to be a major world power.
In 1937, its wartime prowess of 1918 had been disbanded,
and the nation had suffered an almost decade-long
economic depression, circumstances which it shared with
most of the then developing industrial world.
This economic tribulation, and its accompanying
unemployment and suffering among the masses of
population, combined with aftershocks of the world war
which had not really ended, led to disturbances in almost
all nations, and seemingly incoherent assaults on personal
and national conduct. Nazism, fascism and communism
took hold increasingly in a decadent Europe. Religious and
ethnic prejudices, the seeds of which had been planted
centuries before, now bloomed in dark and violent colors.
The value of a human life, which had escalated in the
idealism and humanism of earlier modern culture was
suddenly devalued like an old currency deemed worthless.
But in 1937, few shots had yet been fired. The huge empire
which the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was scheduled to
inherit before that summer day in Sarajevo was now a tiny
hapless nation sandwiched between the awakening
totalitarian forces that would soon overtake most of the
civilized world. Americans and Canadians read almost
incredible reports of disruptive and unspeakable events
across the ocean.
It was a year of willful suspension in the minds of most
Americans. World War I had not been fought on any U.S.
territory. Americans read the reports, but they seemed far
Very few persons who were old enough possibly to
understand that world of 1937 are alive today. The few
who are alive are at least 95 years old.
Of course, the world has been altered much beyond its
circumstances in 1937. A second world war was fought, and
following it, a “cold” war,, with the two ending fascism and
communism. A series of smaller wars or skirmishes have
followed between newer political forces. The precedent for
an attack on U.S. soil at Pearl Harbor was followed 60 years
later by September 11 in New York City and Washington, DC.
China and India now each have populations of 1.3 billion
persons. They have growing economies and technological
capabilities. Europe was the site of a post World War II
recovery and boom as it created an economic union, but that
cycle seems to have been relatively short-lived as attempts to
impose a more political union have collapsed into old and new
religious, ethnic and cultural conflicts. The U.S. which emerged
as the dominant world economic and military power after
World War II and the Cold War has reached limits to its powers,
and with only a population of 300 million, apparent caps on its
economic hegemony in the long term.
The totalitarian innovations of the 20th century are no more,
but new totalitarian forces, which are as old as human history
itself, have not surprisingly reappeared.
A thoughtful and educated young man or woman living in the
U.S. in 1937 might have sensed something very big and terrible
was coming, but how could they have imagined what actually
I’m old now, but I wonder what the young men and young
women of today, those under 20 years old, for example, are
thinking about what they see and hear and read about what’s
happening in the world today --- their world and what it might
I have long wondered what it would have been like to be a young
person in 1937, but I could not really understand it in spite of all
that we all know has transpired since that time.
It’s late now, but I’m beginning to understand.
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.