Any given back issue of The Nation is full of interesting little tidbits: editorials that could have been written yesterday; book reviews of classics and forgotten tomes; news items that alter what we think we know about an event in history; essays that only need to be dusted off to shimmer again and shine. Reading old clippings from the magazine both provides surprising context for the news today—the first thing one learns is that the world has always been falling apart—and helps us realize the continuities of what The Nation, in its first issue, called “the conflict of ages, the great strife between the few and the many, between privilege and equality, between law and power, between opinion and the sword.” Today we look at the issue of October, 29, 1938.
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A brief entertaining blurb in the first section of the magazine, “The Shape of Things,” went as follows:
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On the next page, an editorial, “Taking Stock” tries to plot “a consistent, democratic foreign policy” in the wake of Munich, which The Nation described as a disastrous betrayal. Even the relatively well-intentioned stances of the Roosevelt administration were not sufficient to the needs of the moment, the editors warned: “That strange mixture of democratic good-will, moral indignation, irresponsible detachment, and a sharp nose for profits that characterizes our foreign policy has, we fear, all the earmarks of the current American mood. Liberal opinion must agree on the elements of a program and then press them upon the people and the government.”
Moreover, the editorial continued, Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, the future president’s father, should be recalled from London: “His boyish enthusiasm for collaboration with dictators is as shocking today as it may prove troublesome tomorrow, and it affords a striking symbol of all that we must oppose.”
Fourth on a list of “points of immediate policy on which liberals can agree” was this foreboding item: “We must be bold and humane in our treatment of the refugee problem. A willingness to take in a fair share of the homeless victims of Hitler would do more than diplomacy or financial backing to induce other countries to open their doors.” During the war, The Nation regularly, passionately and, in the end, unsuccessfully called for the admission of refugees, especially cast-off European Jews, to the United States, but I had not realized it sounded the call so early.
“As a nation we are heading into responsibilities and dangers new in our experience,” the editorial concluded. “Let us be certain at least that our government approaches them along a road that avoids the ambuscades of Chamberlain diplomacy.”
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At the end of the issue, where the Letters to the Editors section then ran, there appears a letter written by Raif N. Khuri, “Palestine Arab Delegate to the Second World Youth Congress,” a gathering the previous summer held at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie. Khuri was responding to a report from October 4 by the Nation correspondent Albert Viton, describing the ongoing Arab uprising against British rule in Palestine. The Nation largely supposed Zionism at the time, but not quite as vigorously or unambiguously as it did in the late 1940s, when editor and publisher Freda Kirchwey was probably the most influential and visibile liberal Zionist in the United States. In a news blurb at the beginning of the issue we are currently examining, The Nation argued that looming British suppression of the Arab revolt meant Jews