Thomas Sowell

Three-quarters of a century!

 It is hard to believe that I am that old but arithmetic is uncompromising. This means that I have lived through nearly one-third of the entire history of the United States.

 The changes in my life -- and still more so in the life of the country around me and in the world at large -- have been almost unbelievable.

 Most Americans did not own a telephone or a refrigerator when I was born on June 30, 1930.

 The United States and the world were in the depths of the greatest depression in history. Congress passed the highest tariff in history in 1930, in an effort to protect American jobs from foreign competition -- and unemployment became even worse.

 Franklin D. Roosevelt was Governor of New York in 1930. Winston Churchill was just an ignored backbencher in the British Parliament. In the German elections of 1930, a fringe group called National Socialists received more votes than ever before but the Nazis were still just the second largest party in the country.

 Bill Terry led the National League in batting in 1930, with an average of .401 -- the last .400 hitter in that league. No black man had ever played major league baseball at that point and none was allowed to enlist in the U.S. Navy, even though blacks had once served in the Navy as far back as the War of 1812.

 A decade later, the Nazi blitzkrieg overwhelmed France in just six weeks of fighting and, with German bombers pounding London night after night, Britain was not expected to survive.

 After Churchill was appointed Prime Minister, he said to his chauffeur: "I hope that it is not too late. I am very much afraid that it is. We can only do our best." He had tears in his eyes.

 The war would be more than three years old before the British -- or anyone else -- won a major battle against the Nazi war machine. When the British finally won a battle against the German army in North Africa near the end of 1942, Churchill declared frankly, "we have a new experience. We have victory."

 That same year, America scored its first big victory -- with the help of incredible luck -- in the naval battle of Midway against Japan, which had been rampaging through Asia as triumphantly, and as brutally, as the Nazis were rampaging through Europe.

 The decisive victory of the Allies at the end of World War II cannot obscure the earlier years of incessant defeats that they suffered or the fact that there was a real question during those years whether Western democracies would survive.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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