What can the 1930s teach us about our world today? Is isolationism a good idea for the United States? Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Bret Stephens discusses this in his new book, America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder. I got to meet Mr. Stephens, who writes Global View, the foreign affairs column of the Wall Street Journal, when he analyzed the situation at an evening organized by StandWithUs.
He started his lecture by discussing a fascinating book he had just read by Joachim Fest, a German historian. Not Me: Memoirs of a German Childhood, describes Mr. Fest’s father, an intellectual, who had many Jewish friends in Germany before the Second World War. Mr. Fest senior had encouraged his Jewish friends to leave Germany in the early 1930s, as he became alarmed by the events surrounding them. To his surprise, they insisted on staying where they were. They told him that Germany was a state of law, and that they would be fine. As he discussed the war with his son, Mr. Fest observed that his Jewish friends had lost their instinct for danger. This instinct for danger had been their secret to survival throughout their history. Mr. Stephens told the audience that we must not lose our instinct for danger. As world events unfold around us, we must not delude ourselves into believing that we are invulnerable.
I have admired Bret Stephens since he was the youngest editor in the history of The Jerusalem Post. He is as brilliant in person as he is in his writing. America in Retreat is a very important book for anyone who is perturbed by world events. It reviews the United States’ foreign policy from 1947 to the present. Mr. Stephens warns about the dangers of American isolationism, and the potential for global disorder as a result. He suggests a way forward for America and the world. As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, it was very interesting for me to read his analysis of the thinking of American leaders during and after the Second World War. As horrible is it all was, his “what if someone like President Obama led the United States at that time?” supposition was, if possible, even more terrifying. I am paying very close attention to all the people who tell me that they see parallels between the present and the 1930s. For anyone who is passionate about democracy, Zionism, and protecting the world from going up in flames, I highly recommend this book.