Sunday, January 31, 2016


Let me look back 84 years from MMXVI to MCMXXXII. Why? As a little exercise in retrospection to a day, January 31, 1932, when Brigitte was not yet born. She would be born the next day, February 1 of that leap year. 2016 is identical to 1932: every date in 1932 falls on the same day of the week as in 2016. Brigitte was born on Monday—and will celebrate her 84th on Monday once more.

So what kind of a year was MCMXXXII? Given a perspective of 84 years, 1932 looked pretty ordinary—the same-old, same-old, you might say. In many places even the same parties were involved in the same sorts of conflicts. Japan was more aggressive—invading Manchuria, for instance. These days China is more muscular—creating mini-Manchurias in the South China Sea; Japan seems about as troubled (and helpless) about those islands now as China was about Manchuria then.

The ISIS of that era was just forming—the Nazi party in Germany and the Fascist in Italy, but things hadn’t heated up as yet. To be sure—and I’m restricting this just to February, Brigitte’s month of birth, Goebbels had already nominated Hitler to run for the presidency of Germany; Hindenburg had also agreed to run again. But Hitler was not qualified for the job because he was not a German citizen (echoes of Cruz in 2016?). Then, still in February, Hitler was appointed as a police commissioner in Braunschweig; and, as a civil servant in Germany, he gained citizenship automatically. Useful, that, for his political candidacy. About that same time. Mussolini and Pope Pius XI had an hour’s meeting in the Vatican to talk about the Lateran Treaty that “solved” the “Roman Question,” as it was then called, namely the status of a sovereign Vatican City embedded in a Fascist state. In that month, also Trotsky was banished from the Soviet Union for all time; with him Stalin got rid of an irritating opponent—which did not prevent Stalin from having Trotsky assassinated in Mexico. Same-old, you might say.

To be sure, things were in bad shape in Germany, conditions paving Hitler’s rise to power. The country was an economic shambles with 6 of 20.4 million unemployed (a rate of 29.5%). Germany was struggling for the repeal of Part V of the Treaty of Versailles (thus permitting it to rearm) while France opposed it. Meanwhile the League of Nations (old name but same-old) was pleading with China and Japan to enter negotiations; but Japan held on to Manchuria until the end of World War II.

The United States was not doing so well either. Of its 50.4 million workforce, 12.1 million were also unemployed (23.5%). Today the number of unemployed is 7.9 million, but the workforce has trippled; hence the unemployment rate is at 5 percent. Then, as now, low-cost lending by government—to restore growth—was a big issue. Hence in Brigitte’s birth-month The Reconstruction Finance Corporation began operations—lending to banks so that they would lend to industry. (The RFC lasted until 1954.) The U.S. was also seeing the beginning of a brief climate change: the Dust Bowl days were just starting. The first organized efforts were launched to repeal Prohibition. The U.S. hosted the Olympic Winter games in Lake Placid. All through 1932, of course, Hoover was President—but in the fall elections Franklin D. Roosevelt won a landslide victory.

John Galsworthy (he of the Forsyth Saga) won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Werner Heisenberg (he of the Uncertainty Principle) the prize for Physics. The Forsyths would morph into the 1 percent—and the uncertainty principle would become as much a law of society as it is of physics. All up in the air; even more so now—and Aldous Huxley knew it; he published Brave New World in 1932. What we do know about MCMXXXII and don’t about MMXVI is what followed it fairly soon; soon after 1932 came World War II, and a great and very destructive war it was; but for most of those now living, it is almost forgotten. Not so for those who look back on the good old days…

Happy Birthday tomorrow, Brigitte. You belong to the lucky who, despite the endless chaos, survived and thrived, and now you can look back on it all and then, looking around, just shake your head…


  1. I am re-reading this post today, on the last day of my 84th birth month. I feel compelled to thank you, once more, for this most interesting historic review of the societal conditions in 1932 as viewed through the lens of those prevailing in 2016. You point out many similarities, especially the chaos that has not really much abated since, it merely keeps changing locations on this globe to endlessly explode, again and again. Then you end by calling me lucky to have come through it all. And you are right, I do feel lucky and very grateful to have spent more than half of the 8.4 decades of my crazy life here in your company. I hope you know that.

    1. I do, I do. And the feeling is mutual...