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A year that smells like 1938

Wesley Pruden

By Wesley Pruden

Published Feb. 17, 2015

A year that smells like 1938
We're well into the new century, moving swiftly through the second decade of the new millennium, at ease in an era of science, modern medicine and wondrous electronics that our grandparents could not have imagined. (Even our parents don't understand most of it.)

So why does 2015 smell like Munich and 1938, reeking of denial, blindness, mendacity, cant and cowardice in the year that would introduce monstrous tyranny and barbarism, an assault on the very idea of civilization? Comparisons may be odious but only the weak and foolish look and do not see.

A gunman invades the sanctity of a synagogue in Copenhagen, where Jews at worship imagined they were safe, and kills the man guarding the door. This followed by a day an attempted massacre at a seminar on free speech in another part of Copenhagen, where a gunman shouting the familiar Muslim cry of worship — "Allahhu Akbar," or "Allah is great" — shot and killed one of the participants.

Hoodlums routinely desecrate the graves of Jews in France; in Germany the authorities call off a peaceful parade through the streets because they're afraid it will attract terrorists. Jews visiting Denmark from Israel are warned not to wear yarmulkes or any sign they are Jewish. Across Europe, and even in the United States, the ancient curse of anti-Semitism seeps from under the rocks and the toxic swamps where it had taken refuge.

The Islamic State, or ISIS, with its dreams of a world-wide caliphate ruled by Islam from the Dark Ages, videotapes the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya, puts their severed heads on display atop their bodies like cherries on a row of ice-cream sodas, and uploads it to the Internet for the world to see the work of the faithful. The Nazis, as if shamed in their own eyes, tried to hide their most evil deeds.

Where does such runaway evil go next? The civilized world of 1938 had to wait for Winston Churchill for rescue, and then for Franklin D. Roosevelt to make up his mind whether to follow. There's neither a Churchill nor a FDR in sight. The events in Copenhagen underscores what The Wall Street Journal calls Europe's new terrorist normal. "Homegrown or immigrant Muslim terrorists targeting innocents and the Western way of life are becoming a feature of Continental life."

The West in 2015, like the West in 1938, invites by default the approaching storm. America has always led the way against the destroyers of the civilized life, but President Obama either can't or won't see the threat of radical Islam. He chokes on the word "Islamic" and when denouncing the beheading massacre of Coptic Christians he wouldn't say "Christian." Mr. Obama is proud of his education (he knows all about the Crusades), his Harvard law degree and the adoration of the intellectual elites, but he's the last man in the West who can't see the terrorists for who and what they are. He wants Congress to give him a bigger gun to shoot at ISIS, but Congress can't be sure he knows which is the business end of a gun, and how and where to aim it.

The hostility of the intellectual elites to Israel encourages these terrorists as they plot further evil. The men of evil understand that ultimately only the Americans stand in their way of realizing the dream of the worldwide caliphate, and when the leader of the Americans isn't even sure who the enemy is they rightly figure they have little to worry about.

The 8,000 Jews in Denmark deal with anti-Semitism every day, and the Danish government, full of the usual Scandinavian piety about its wonderfulness, grants millions of kroner to activists who disguise their hatred of Jews, and lecture the Israelis about how they deal with the real-world threats to their survival.

The good news is that France, which has had a habit of sleep-walking through history, seems to have pinched itself awake. Since the Charlie Hepdo and kosher supermarket attacks even the densest Frenchman can see that the Islamic radicals have him in their gunsights along with everyone else who doesn't bow to Allah in the way of the Ninth Century. Prime Minister Manuel Valls has ordered the isolation of Muslim jihadists in prisons, increased spending on intelligence agencies and according security forces greater authority to monitor terrorist suspects on the Internet.

Mr. Obama wants more authority, too, but nobody in Congress can figure out why. He already has more authority than he's willing to use. He could take to heart the admonition of Theodore Roosevelt: "I have a perfect horror of words that are not backed up by deeds." So do we all.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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