Sunday, July 17, 2011

Looking Back

I was not old and had no immediate plans for arriving at that state until the day I began meditating about the general discontent that was sweeping across our nation.  On that day, I began to wonder what had been happening while I had been busying myself being a homemaker and raising our children the best that I could.

It was apparent that although I had been dutifully voting in all elections, I had been oblivious to much that had happened afterwards. Over the years a very large number of people had become very unhappy with taxes and what they considered increasing infringement on their freedom of choices. Were they justified in their feelings, I wondered? If so how had it happened? 
Why had such unrest suddenly erupted? Was it the proverbial straw that had broken the camel’s back? Obviously a large group of citizens had had enough, already.
      At this point, my thoughts meandered back to my childhood when I had listened to my father rave and rant about the government’s city slickers telling him how he had to conduct his business, which was farming.

      Now this couldn’t have been too terribly long ago, could it? I remember it all so very clearly. So, I thought back to those days and went a step farther…I counted the presidential administrations  of my lifetime and suddenly I became old.  No, that is not correct: I became ancient!  I counted fifteen of these. I counted again and then I made a list. The total did not change. I wondered if the ones I did not remember clearly, counted, but of course they did. One must be honest about such unavoidable issues, especially since others can also count. Of course, I have only made it through a portion of the present Obama administration, so I guess one could more accurately say I have lived through fourteen administrations, Sounds better, somehow.

In fairness, or to diminish, to my suddenly advanced years, I do not remember Calvin Coolidge or Herbert Hoover. In fact, I seem to be continually referring to my list to remind myself of their names.

Now Franklin Delano Roosevelt is entirely another issue. He was a person of impressive presence. He conveyed confidence and assurance to a nation floundering in desperation. When he spoke, his voice rolled out from the radio in a distinctive tone and an accent that could never be confused with that of a Texan. Not only did one listen because it was the President of the United States speaking, his was an enthralling voice commanding attention.Surely as FDR campaigned for office he was aware of the scope of the problems he would face if elected, for there were daily dreary news updates, and from the countryside to the large cities, there was desolation.

What type of man would voluntarily campaign for the position of leading a country with so many people practically starving, with no jobs, no homes and no hope? It took a very confident man; a man with great vision and determination. He may have had private doubts but he never hesitated as he proceeded to put our nation back on its feet. In the first 100 days of his administration he managed to get 15 legislative proposals passed into law.  Private interests were subordinated to public policy, and the federal government took on the mission of doing what no other interest could do on its own. The role of government was transformed.

From his first proposals, to today’s reviews of his administration, there has been controversy about Roosevelt’s actions. Historians still debate whether FDR’s programs were helpful in ending the Depression, or whether it was WWII that lifted the economy out of its slump.
It's also become clear to researchers, that FDR fundamentally expanded the reach and power of the federal government, a role which most Americans now accept, especially in times of crisis. And that marked a monumental change in American life.

This was confirmation of a suspicion of mine that the Roosevelt years had marked the beginning of the larger role of the government in the lives of the American people. From this administration forward, Government has continued assuming more and more authority over more and more areas, in what we can hope has been a well-meaning attempt to better our lives. Were these actions the first straws to be laid on the backs of the people?

To be fair in our assessment of those years, FDRs famous statement of “all we have to fear is fear itself” and his declaration of a “Bank Holiday“ which closed banks for three days, staving off a panicky run on the banks, were master strokes.

Perhaps the most valuable actions for future generations were the conservation measures that went into effect. At that time, there was little understanding by those using our land, of the means or value of being good custodians. This attitude, combined with a period of unseasonable winds and droughts, delivered a double-whammy to a nation already in bad trouble from the 1929 stock market crash . Fortunately for the nation, Roosevelt, or his advisors, knew the answer to that problem.

Although they may have been surprised that they could not provide the needed rain, they immediately set about salvaging what was left of our soil.
This was good, for the blinding dust storms were sending a frightening amount of our nation toward the oceans.

Farming practices that are now considered the normal and sensible way were generally unheard of until the Roosevelt policies went into effect. Terracing and contour planting stopped the terrible erosion that was scaring our farmland with head-deep ditches that were getting deeper with every rain. Cover crops were planted to hold the remaining soil in place despite the strong winds. Soil enriching crops were planted and crop rotation was encouraged.

Today, I can drive by my old home place and look at level fields where once there were once deep intersecting ditches showing layers of red clay, scarring the land. And I can mentally vision the young surveyor laying out the contours the terraces needed to follow. I can see my father with his horse-drawn scraper or scoop, moving dirt across low places to stop the flow of water or with a team and plow going back and forth, gradually making a ridge of soil that formed the terraces that also controlled the runoff. In particular, I can remember heavy rains that filled a terraced low place to the top with muddy water and then breaking through, leaving an impressive gap three or four feet deep and at least five feet wide, that had to be rebuilt.

How would our landscape appear today had President Roosevelt not instigated the programs to save our land. In those efforts we can see the value of caring for our environment. Without that wonderful top soil which was disappearing at an alarming rate, what would have happened to our food supply?

 Other programs of the FDR administration proved extremely successful.
A Civilian Conservation Corp or CCCs was created for young men to enter. They were paid about $21 per month, with the biggest part of that amount being sent home to assist their families. The young men, some mere boys, kept a small amount for their personal use.

CCC camps were established across the nation with barracks and tents for housing. The training and discipline were thorough and strict and usually administrated by army sergeants according to army standards. Many kinds of training prepared these groups to do environmental work where needed or to build community centers and other facilities for towns in need. They established many of the parks we are presently enjoying, much of their masonry work still available for use.

       In recent years, the Parks and Recreation Department has held reunions of CCC members, to show their appreciation for the great work they did. In chatting with one old fellow (well, he appeared to be a few years older than I), he reflected the view of most of the attendees: they were the ones who appreciated the help the program gave to their families, and the discipline and training that they received. There is no doubt that we who appreciate the preservation of the special places that have become our state and national parks, have these men and the  CCC program to be grateful for.

Another work day 
The CCC s were not the only family relief program. There were soup kitchens and food subsidies for a starving people and work programs were created. One, the WPA, provided work at various projects, at the government’s expense. I remember seeing participants carpooling on their way to work, while my dad went about his independent ways, harnessing his team for ad pay the mortgage and buy a pair of shoes for a growing child.

Ah, that father of mine; honest and law-abiding in all ways, but with an independence and confidence in his own ability to provide for himself and his family that after years of hard work, finally paid off.

He continued fuming at the Roosevelt polices, often in colorful language, until the attack on Pearl Harbor. With the president’s words, in his unforgettable voice, “We are at war,” my dad turned to me saying, “You’ve heard me cussing this man and you know how I feel, but we are at war and he is our Commander-in-Chief and you won’t hear me say another word.”
And he didn’t!

Fourteen years of varying political shenanagins cannot be covered in a single posting. The Roosevelt years, alone, are worth another post. As my beginning words indicated, my interest in the discontent of so many citizens, led me to delving into what actions (or lack of action) of past administrations had brought this about. Surely we must have been asleep at the wheel.  Unfortunately, those years of sleep, have brought about sudden awaking to a world that is causing a great amount of  political  unrest. 

The question is: will it be to little too late, or will good things happen because of this unrestThe first 100 days


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