Archive for May, 2016

Franklin Roosevelt

Having been born one year before Franklin Roosevelt was elected president, I lived through the entire 12 years of his administration of our national life. The great depression began in earnest just before he took office and the Germans took WWII to new levels just before he was elected to a third term. In his first term he took office with the same verve as his cousin Theodore had when he succeeded the assassinated William McKinley. Theodore was very interested in saving the forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife that were being decimated for profit and Franklin picked up where he left off. Restoring and preserving America’s wildlife and natural world was made easier this time because it provided jobs and Congressmen were anxious to put their many unemployed constituents to work.

Perhaps the most visible program that he put together with Congress on board from the beginning, was the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public works relief program from 1933 to 1942. It was designed to provide manual labor jobs to conserve and develop natural resources in areas owned by various levels of government. The young men (unmarried) it took in were unskilled and mostly out of work. In the nine years it was in operation about 3 million young men participated in the program. They were put together in groups of around 50 with about 300,000 working around the country at any one time. They were paid $30 (in the value of that day) a month, of which $25 had to be sent home. Clothing, and shelter, which they often had to build, were provided . The food was good and plentiful and the outdoor work built muscles.

Their projects were on all three levels of government and built post offices and dirt roads, cleared swamps, planted trees, and made land habitable for declining species. The participants planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, constructed more than 800 parks nationwide, upgraded most state parks, and built a network of service buildings and public roadways in remote areas. For example, one young man planted trees, dug wells, surveyed, dug drainage, built trails and roads and a variety of other construction skills.

One of the unintended benefits of this program was that when World War II came to our shores, we had a reserve of young men who knew how to work together, take directions (orders) and deployed a great variety of skills necessary for military goals.

President Roosevelt travelled the country doing his own surveying of the work being done seeing other types of projects that might be tackled. He visited and ate with “the boys”. For a man with paralyzed legs this took a lot of effort and showed real passion for the young men and the work they were doing for the country.

One of the best treatments of this aspect of Roosevelt’s CCC program is:
Rightful Heritage, by Douglas Brinkley

No Comments

Progress! (Are we progressing?)

Newspapers and TV are full of stories about people in all of life’s situations, many of them violent. Increasingly, it seems to me, that people resort to violence to settle their differences. Almost all police carry guns and use them more often than in previous years. Guns are not only more available for sale, but more people carry them openly (read Texas). Gangs shoot each other daily some place in the country. The rest of us are being told that people need to manage their own security.

For example, as I was driving home from the gym this morning, another driver wanted to get in my lane by pushing me out. When I simply kept driving, he had to get in behind me. When I looked in the rear view mirror, I saw an absolutely enraged man. Face contorted in anger, fists shaking, arms waving, mouth moving violently spewing out words I didn’t want to hear. Fortunately, he was able to get around and two cars in front of me where he rode in the line for several miles until I turned off. This is not an unusual occurrence (though fortunately it is for me).

In current presidential politics Donald Trump is constantly belittling and insulting opponents. Bernie Sanders assaults his Democratic opponent, growing more violent with time. After the Democratic party meeting in Nevada over the past weekend his supporters disrupted the proceedings with violent behavior; throwing furniture and threatening opponents. And, they promised worse at the national convention.

While all this is going on, work continues to leave this country with all sorts of companies that use skilled and semiskilled workers. Government, Congress in particular, is doing very little to address this problem of lack of work, which is causing the lack of faith in government that has become obvious.

In the section of Tuesday’s Science Times of the NYT, there is a long article on where present day people came from. It describes how two Danish brothers in their late teens got into the occupation of searching for the origin and development of humans. A quarter of a century later they are still at it decoding DNA in an effort to get from then to now.  While it is a fascinating article describing their work, it is the comparison between their findings and what is going on in politics that worked its way into my mind.

Over millions of years life and what we have arrived at is this election. Promises to build walls around our borders, expel people who can’t prove that they don’t belong here and only admit people who are like us are attitudes we were changing when I was young.

Can we possibly see this as national social progress?

1 Comment

Forgetting Famous People

Forgetting Famous People

People who were famous and well known when I was young have faded over the years in my memory. One of those people is Abraham Lincoln. I have read two biographies in the past, both of which centered in the Civil War. Recently, Amazon offered a computer version of William Herndon’s biography of Lincoln in his eBook edition. I think it was originally two volumes in print and does not seem to miss a minute of Lincoln’s life. I have reached his political and lawyerly days.

Herndon sees Lincoln as a complicated, forceful person, even though he was willing to stay in the background and watch and listen. When he was old enough to work, his father hired him out and took his earnings. As soon as he was able he left home. He did not avoid conflict, even physical, if he was in a situation where disagreement reached the point of no return. He traveled up and down the Mississippi several times in his younger years, wearing his one shirt and pair of pants. He and a friend bought a general store and then managed to get rid of it within a year. He basically taught himself to become a lawyer by reading borrowed law books. In between his roustabout days and becoming an attorney he served in the Illinois militia during an Indian war and had the role of regimental commander foisted on him. He was elected to the Illinois legislature. After becoming an attorney, he provided free service to those who couldn’t afford to pay.

He did not take what he regarded as insults easily and had several physical and negotiated confrontations with men who crossed his boundary of what was acceptable. He grew up and lived in the daily life of a developing society. It was from this background that he became President of the United States in a very disordered time.

And, now there is Donald Trump!

No Comments

History As I See It

History is written in many different ways. Much of it is claimed by it’s authors to be impartial. Some of it is out and out propaganda, but that is pretty easy to tell. The closer to an event that writing it down occurs, the almost impossibility of its being objective. To use an example I have used before, growing up in the south in the 1930’s the history I learned in elementary school left us all understanding that The War Between the States was settled evenly between North and South. Since then, of course, even Southern school systems could no longer ignore the truth.

World War II is another case in point. For almost forty years, our accounts and analyses were almost entirely from our side. Memoirs described the brave, brilliant, often insightful decisions made by their authors as military or civilian leaders. Winston Churchill, for example, spent the entire war gathering up documents that he would later use in writing his five volume story as his leader of Great Britain. It is only recently that historians have gotten their hands on some documents that lead to possibly different conclusions.

I have recently read The German War, by Nicholas Stargardt, an Englishman who writes about German history. He has taken as many personal documents, letters mostly, as he could find to tell the story of WWII as every day Germans saw it. When Hitler came to power there was a healthy degree of skepticism about him and his crowd. However, as he began to produce work and public projects, attitudes toward him improved substantially. As he drug Europe closer to war, he lost much of his support. Pressuring Austria definitely produced negative attitudes. Getting the Sudetenland back from Czechoslovakia was a definite plus, but invading Poland and France was not. Subduing both, however, raised his standing to new heights.

And thus it went, up and down as people became increasingly sucked into a conflict to which they could see no end. But, there was an end and Germans were faced with the seemingly infinite number of negative problems they had to face, from Russian soldiers who hated them, to prisoners of war and foreign workers who equally hated them.

This is a story that is told from German sources about German life in the war. It is a story of victory and happiness from a growing economy to defeat of France followed by decreasing hopes and expectations to defeat and occupation. As far as I can tell, with the limited sources the author had, he has written as objective a history as he could.

But, it has taken us seventy years for this to take place.

1 Comment