There are obvious differences between the war we are fighting now and World War II, but they both are wars and they share similarities. New Jersey like most of the nation in the late 30’s and early 40’s was hesitant, and often strongly against entering another war. The nation had gone through the depression, had vivid memories of the carnage of World War I, and had become isolationist. In the midst of the build-up, “New Jersey retailer Louis Bamberger financed the establishment of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton to accommodate leading thinkers fleeing Nazi rule such as Albert Einstein, who accepted an appointment to its faculty in 1933.”
All hesitancy came to an abrupt end with Pearl Harbor and the recent beheading of two American hostages. Like President Roosevelt who had passed the Neutrality Act, our current reluctant warrior president ended his hesitancy on a dime and launched an attack on ISIS in Iraq and shortly later in Syria. We are now some seven weeks into heavy bombings, with soldiers on the ground, and a loose alliance.
Like today, in the 30’s and 40’s our enemies were many. Soon President “Rosenfeldt” and Jews were denigrated as war-mongers and profiteers. Prejudice against recent Italian immigrants was high. With WWII we were fighting Germany, Japan, and Italy. Russia was first an ally, defending itself against Germany, but most suspected that Uncle Joe Stalin would soon become an enemy. Countries abroad that had been friends were taken over by the Axis powers and became enemies, with underground resistance. Spain was a cluster of nationalist, communist, and pro- and anti ally forces. American-Japanese were determined to be an enemy and rounded up and barbarically interned. 5th columnists were working on their side of the fence.
Today our enemies are many, including Syria, Iran, and North Korea, as well as non-state terrorist groups in Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Whether Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries are our friends can vary from one day to another. The focus now is ISIS which has received support from Sunni Arabs who feel disenfranchised and for six months or so savagely took over parts of two countries and now threatens the Muslim world, europe and maybe us.
During WWII there were constant threats of further attacks on our homeland, with German boats and submarines off the Jersey shore and elsewhere. Security measures were installed in Newark’s train station. There were blackouts and people were on high alert.
Today we have not reached the black-out stage, but the NY and NJ governors just signed an agreement on heightened security which Gov. Christie termed “the new normal.” I witnessed it in New York City during the U. N. meeting with thousands of policemen, streets closed within a 20-block perimeter, strange vehicles with pipes sticking out to detect dangerous substances, and police in Times Square with geiger counters. On Tuesday the midtown Port Authority did not appear to have a heightened security presence (and it looked as shabby as ever) but we can expect more dogs, armed personnel, check points, and delays in and near NY and NJ crossings as well as other high value targets.
Hopefully as we become inevitably even more involved, we won’t resort to blaming innocent Muslims, increasing illegal surveillance or abrogating our constitutional rights. Bad things happen in a war and we can expect no less today. Maybe there will also be acts of kindness as displayed by Louis Bamberger.
P.S. If you like a good mystery story, mixed with a historical setting, read James Ellroy’s new Perfidia – an over-the-top re-creation of politics, crime, and mayhem in Los Angeles during the days before and after Pearl Harbor.