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The Locust Years

Excerpt from How America Got It Right, by Bevin Alexander, pages 103-04

Winston Churchill called the 1930s “the locust years,” an apt and eloquent phrase. He was referring to the terrible losses, mistakes, and failures that devoured all hope of peace during that tragic decade. The words came from the Old Testament Book of Joel [2:25], which described a period of calamity in ancient Israel as “the years that the locust hath eaten.” When today we look back on those sad times leading up to World War II, we are dismayed at the inability of well-intentioned people to see what should have been plainly evident—that Germany, Italy, and Japan were bent on aggression of the most ferocious and destructive kind, and that they had to be stopped....

The decade of the 1930s stands out as the longest and most sustained period of willful blindness in American history. During those years our leaders refused to accept either reality or the duty that bound them to protect their nation and their civilization. During the entire reach from the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in 1931 to the German defeat of France in the spring of 1940, America did not get it right, and we and the world suffered immeasurable harm because of it. It is no consolation that the other democracies did no better than we did, for if America had stood up resolutely, the weaker and more timid democracies would have been emboldened, and the world could have avoided the most terrible war in its history. The 1930s should serve as a cautionary tale to guide our future conduct—if we allow some aggression to get by, it almost certainly will grow into more aggression.

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