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The False WWII Analogy
Obama’s America is more like Attlee’s Britain than Truman’s America.


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Victor Davis Hanson

Moreover, the world abroad in 1946 was hardly similar to the world in 2011. Review the prior status of our present global competitors: India was a backward colony and in civil turmoil. War-torn China was about to embark on the most self-destructive social experiment in human history. Two-thirds of a centrally planned Soviet Union was in shambles. Western Europe was near starving after years of bombing and Nazi strangulation. The future export powerhouses of Japan and Germany were in ruins. Brazil was pre-modern. The miracles of Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea were still imaginary. A victorious Britain was full of self-doubt and exhausted, busy dismantling its colonial empire and nationalizing its steel, transportation, health, and energy industries.

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In the immediate postwar years, only a capitalist, self-confident America was poised to supply foreigners with much-needed manufactured goods, expertise, and capital to raise the world from ruin. And from the profits, we were able to pay down our own staggering and unsupportable wartime-incurred debt. Note as well that in 1946 a self-sufficient oil-producing America was not guzzling down a half-trillion dollars’ worth of imported oil each year.

In short, in 2011 there is nothing that suggests the present massive borrowing will lead us to anything like the prosperity of the postwar years — a time when social spending and entitlements accounted for 30 percent, not 70 percent of the annual federal budget; when households both had cash and were eager to buy long-denied items; when America did not import high-cost oil (having recently supplied 80 percent of its wartime allies’ oil needs from domestic production); and when an unscathed industrial-powerhouse United States was alone on top of the world.

But if we must go back to the post–World War II era for an example to enlighten us about what the current Obama policies presage, then the similarities to the present are not to be found in 1940s America. A better guide is Clement Attlee’s 1946 United Kingdom, which, like Obama’s 2011 America, sought to retrench from the world scene, lead from behind, and establish a much-vaunted high-tax, big-government, cradle-to-grave redistributive welfare state — one whose legacy we have just witnessed in London’s streets.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.



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