Hard Times An oral history of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel.
Terkel stitches together extended excepts from his interviews of 100+ individuals. Done by someone less skilled, this could have ended up as the closet drama from hell with 100+ cast members. Instead of leaving us with an exponential character relationship migraine, he leaves us musing over the tensions between the stories told.
I just wish I had read this back in AP US History... It would have spurred me to read a bit more on certain ideas which would have made class arguments better.
Wiliam Benton has a section in Book One, "The Big Money", where he talks at length about how his firm Benton & Bowles changed radio advertising by creating 1) the soap opera to push their clients' goods, and 2) metrics to find out which shows people actually watched.
Books told us about guys jumping out of windows. But it didn't tell us GM made fantastic profits all those years. Our textbooks tell us everybody got fucked. That isn't true. A lot of guys, Joe Kennedy, for instance, made tremendous profits during that period. The vast majority got fucked up by the high guys. It's the textbooks that are fucked up.
I've been told it (the Great Depression) can never happen again. However, there is one thing that does trouble me. I went to Germany in '34 and '38. I saw what Nazism did. I was troubled by Americans saying: "But ths could never happen with us. The Germans are a strange people with whom we have nothing in common -- beasts." I knew this wasn't true. This kind of thing can happen any place, give certain circumstances....There was a terrible depression in Germany. Along comes a man who tells them thaty're a great nation, all they have to do is believe in themselves and follow him. He promised them the sun, the moon, and the stars. The German intellectuals and comedians made fun of him and the Nazis in their night clubs. I heard one in the Platzl in Munich. The audience loved it, adored it. But it didn't stop Nazism. They won over the lower middle classes....
The whole program of unemployment insurance, Social Security, was a confession of the failure of our whole social order. And confession of failure of Christian principles: that man, in fact, did not look after his brother.
He recounts his one-man efforts, after Huey (Long)'s death, in battling the Long machine -- "the aggressive pigs in the trough". It was their compact with New Dealers that most incurred his wrath: the promise of several millions to be spent in the state, withheld during Huey's life -- on the condition of their backing Roosevelt in the 1936 convention.... "Out of the nine men in the machine, I was the only one who refused. I arose in the meeting and said I had catapulted to prominence on the wet grave of Huey Long. There was nothing they had I wanted. So those others, who hadn't reported their income taxes, who had stolen money, were coerced by the Internal Revenue Department and lined up. I coined the term: The Second Louisiana Purchase.
When I attended Berkeley in 1936, so many of the kids had actually lost their fathers. They had wandered off in disgrace because the couldn't support their families. Other fathers had killed themselves, so the family could have the insurance. Families had totally broken down. Each father took it as his personal failure. These middle-class men apparently had no social sense of what was going on, so they killed themselves.It was still the Depression. There were kids who didn't have a place to sleep, huddling under bridges on the campus. I had a scholarship, but there were times wehn I didn't have food. The meals were often three candy bars. We lived communally and I remember feeding other kids by cooking up more spaghetti than I can ever consider again.
I remember Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I remember his voice. It was a great voice. And I loved it. But some of us learned that he was full of shit, too. That he was a fucking liar, that he was no good.
Why do you say that?
Because he just didn't deliver. Let's face it, let's talk about Munich. Let's talk about all those things that were just words when I was a little kid. And he and Churchill and Daladier and Laval, they built up the Nazis so they could kill the Communists. And that's what they really did at Munich, that's what Munich really meant. And all this appeasement myth is just a myth.It's just that they thought they could use the Nazis against the Communists, and that's what it really got down to. And they killed forty million people to find out how fucking wrong they were. And they plunged us all, my whole life, my whole generation into an endless, terrible misery.
He told me that his wife had kicked him out. His children had had such contempt for him 'cause he couldn't pay the rent, he just had to leave, to get out of the house. He lived in perpetual shame. This was, to me, the most cruel thing of the Depression. Almost worse than not having food. Accepting the idea that you were just no good.
In 1937, the United States Housing Act was passed. The concept was a good one, different from those sterile words. We built quite beautiful projects throughout the country. The standards of the Federal Administration were high. But it never occurred to anybody that the people might make their own decisions about playgrounds, housing design, or management policies. So the institutions became more and more institutionalized, while we took in more and more deprived people. In many cases, we tried to pick the nicer of the deprived and avoid the less-nice. We had absolutely no insight....
(young woman born after the Great Depression)
Like when I lived in Jacksonville, Florida. I was six or seven. A false alarm went off -- they blew the alarm to take shelter for fallout. In case there's an air raid. Well, it went off. We were in school at the time. Everyone was going nuts. People were running around. They didn't care what happened to the kids. There were all to themselves.
They were all running out into the street. There were so many cars, you couldn't even get across the street. People wouldn't let you in their cars, if you wanted to get in. There were mothers running, and their kids were following behind them screaming.
It was so terrible, these people. You could tell they didn't care. Some people thought the Russians were coming. And the teacher said: Everybody, get under your desks. Other teachers were running around: What are gonna do with the kids? And then it seemed like the teachers just disappeared.
Outside was terrible. Cars were packed. Women were running with children, and maybe four men in one car, and yet they wouldn't open the cars to let the women with the kids in. They weren't even going two miles an hour. There were so many people, nobody could get by. Yet nobody would help anybody else.It's probably gotten worse now. If anything ever happens -- like you say, a Depression -- probably the whole country would be overrun by Communists....