Lessons from the year 1934
By most accounts it was a really terrible year; a year from which hope definitely did not spring eternal. The faith of the nation in its government was sorely tested over that troubling time, as was the resilience of the people who, that January, faced the daunting challenges that the New Year seemed to promise with the expressions of a pummeled boxer about to go down.
It was the year that the Great Depression was ebbing from its height. That year an incredible 21.7 percent of the country was out of work, which was only slightly better than the 23% of the previous year when a new administration entered the White House with promises of hope and change. People sold everything they had at whatever price they could get for it in order to support themselves and/or their families. People lived on the streets and in parks. Not just the few bums who were too lazy to work or the veterans of the Great War to emotionally scarred to function in normal society anymore, but fine, upstanding, middle-class families that one would never expect to see in such a position. So great were they that aid and comfort societies could hardly cope with their numbers. Soup and bread lines flourished as the crisis deepened that summer and the destitute, from whom an air of hopelessness wafted like a bad smell, populated them as never before. For these many ‘Dumpster Diving’ wasn’t the joke that today it seems to be, passed around by some afternoon drive-time want-to-be comedian cum disc jockey; it was a fact of life. And more than one family was split when dad strode off to the train yard to try and hop freight to somewhere – anywhere – that there might be a job with the words “Write if you get work” echoing in his ears. All too often when he did write there wasn’t anyone left to answer the letter…
Nor was the work they set out to find often there. Industry tanked; commerce collapsed. People would do anything for work. Educated men who had once been captains of industry were now sweeping floors for pennies a day. Foreclosures on farms across the country reached the unbelievable number of some 200 a day. The devastating effects of this on farm families – as well as the resultant loss of the product they produced for the market place – can easily be imagined. Prices soared and people blanched, blaming the banks for the failure of the economy.
Ah, the banks… and of course the bankers who, in popular imagination, were the cause of it all. What of them? The likes of John Dillinger, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, ‘Baby Face’ Nelson and ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd dealt with them that year, much to the delight of many in the public who cheered them for getting their own back from the ‘evil moneyed men’. Yet all of them paid the price for their actions that year as well, meeting their collective fates before 1935 dawned; each gunned down by a fledgling FBI. It was the end of the first batch of the ‘Celebrity Outlaws’; a sorry phenom that exists to this day. Yet the lawless ones wrote themselves into history that year – deservedly so or not – because in the popular imagination they stood up to a system that had failed and let everybody down.
And that system had been run both directly and indirectly by the US Government who the public, by that year, had largely decided could no longer be trusted. The previous year the people of this country had turned their listless, pathetic eyes on their elected officials with utter disdain, demanding that something be done. And hadn’t the president elect promised that hope was not dead, and that the dragon of the unfathomable depression could be slain with the ‘New Deal’? Where, they bleated, was the change?
Any of this sound familiar?
My own personal 1934 was 2011. That was the year we almost lost our house, the year when everything came crashing down and the bills piled up to incredible levels as I desperately sought gainful employment that would support my family. I mean it really got bad. That year I did whatever it took, from selling the ‘stuff’ I obviously didn’t really need (since I can’t say that I’ve really missed much of it), to working on a friend’s farm daily for cash (which is definitely a young man’s job) and eventually to working part time in a liquor store – not necessarily an easy thing for a recovering alcoholic to cope with. But it was what was necessary. When I was young my mother and I were fairly poor. I remember having to ‘do without’; something I swore my children would never have to do as long as I had hands to work with. I worked hard my whole life, from age 13 on, to ‘do better’. I had achieved that – and then was reminded by 2011 how fragile a thing that was and that at any time it could all slip away. Today I have been blessed with stable, good employment again and am wiser and utterly thankful. I take nothing for granted.
Our government as of late has not made it easy for the majority of us to ‘do better’ however, though I notice that they seem to be doing just fine. Much of our economy has been damaged by the policies of the current administration, making getting out of this seemingly unending ‘recession’ an all but impossible task. To quote one of my favorite songwriters: “The rich folks call it recession, while the poor folks call it depression.” I’m not going to make that call, because I’m neither. But I will say this: hanging Obama care on the neck of this country in conjunction with the deplorable economic policies of this administration quite possibly might be enough weight to send us back to an economic travesty to equal 1934. Eighty years ago the administration of FDR promised hope and change through the ‘New Deal’ to get us out of the Great Depression. I do believe that he wanted to help and in large measure was successful eventually (even if some of the policies he instituted have weighed on us ever since). Now, eighty years later the policies of the Obama administration threaten to plunge us back into the terrible depths of the economic abyss and it’s painfully obvious they simply do not care…
Unless something is done, the bread and soup lines will be back.
Wake up America. I’ve lived my 1934 already and don’t want to do it again.
Will 2014 be your 1934?