Last night after President-elect Obama had given his acceptance speech the punditry machine started up again. Tom Brokaw, a veteran anchorman at NBC, surprisingly made what I found to be the most hyberbolic statement of the night. He said that the challenges awaiting Obama as president were on the scale of the challenges the nation faced during World War II.
This is, of course, absurd. America is in rough shape, to be sure, but to liken our current financial crisis and trouble overseas to the incredible financial crisis and world-changing warfare of the 1940s is the height of hyperbole.
The differences between today’s down economy and the unmitigated disaster of the Great Depression are staggering. During the depression unemployment reached 25%. Droughts ravaged huge parts of the United States, killing of crops, yet crop prices fell 40% to 60%—throwing millions of Americans into the depths of poverty. And the proposed cures were worse than the disease. Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act and retaliatory tariffs in other countries led to a total collapse of the global economy. We’re far, far away from this sort of scenario.
World War II is also of no compare. 100 million military personnel were mobilized in WWII, the largest conflict in history. 70 million people died, most of them civilians. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan involve tragic death and destruction that shouldn’t be diminished, but the scale of the conflicts facing President-elect Obama just don’t compare to WWII.
Of course all of this is shocking coming from the author of The Greatest Generation, a book about how my grandparent’s generation got through the Great Depression and World War II and built modern America. Perhaps this sort of statement betrays just how much Brokaw relied on ghost writers for the book.
President-elect Obama has a tough road ahead, no doubt, but we should be thankful that his challenges are no where near the challenges faced by FDR or Harry Truman. Those are the kinds of challenges we should all pray we never see again.
NOTE: Try as I may to find a transcript, it doesn’t seem that MSNBC has one ready/available yet, so I can’t find the extact quote. When I do, I’ll update this post.