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The Dust Bowl of the 1930’s was an unfortunate combination of natural occurrences, mixed with the nation’s over aspiring greed. Our country began westward expansion with the dream of advancing product sea to sea. Our ancestors saw what the land had to offer, and wasted no time in trying to milk it for all its worth, due to our capitalist system economy. Could this have been prevented? After reading Donald Worster’s book The Dust Bowl I would argue that the plainsmen’s pride, reckless denial over the severity of the situation, and need for reform is what led to our nation’s greatest ecological disaster.
“The pattern of reaction among plainsmen went something like this: fail to anticipate drought, underestimate the duration when it comes, expect rain momentarily, deny that they are as hard hit as outsiders believe, defend the region against critics, admit that some help would be useful, demand the government act and act quickly, insist that federal aid be given without strings and when and where local residents want it, vote for those politicians who confirm the people’s optimism and pooh-pooh the need for major reform, resent interference by the bureaucrats eagerly await the return of “normalcy” when the plans will once more proceed along the road of steady progress” (Worster 28). This quote pulled from chapter two in Worster’s book clearly and concisely sums up the attitudes of plainsmen over the decade of dust storms, and “black blizzards” that choked the life out of agriculture, livestock, and even our own people. However, the negative reputation this gave the region upset its settlers who formed “truth squad vigilantes” (Worster 32) to defend the plains against bad press. These groups of people set out to maintain the dignity of the farmers struggling who were not ready to turn their backs on their way of living, which they have done back breaking work for.
Denial of their being a Dust Bowl, or even as much as a drought became top priority of those in the plains region. Truth Vigilantes went as far as attempting to sue, take down, or burn any source or documentation that depicted the southern plains in a negative light. In 1936, there was a Dust Bowl moving picture in progress which was immediately shut down by a member of the Texas legislature declaring the film was, “Libel on the great Texas Panhandle” (The Shamrock Texan, 1). The reporter continued the piece quoting delegate Eugene Worley also stating that “The scenes were misleading, an unfair representation, and that the Texas Panhandle was far from being a desert with its rich agriculture, and hospitable citizens” (The Shamrock Texan, 1). This continuous denial for many years in the 30’s is what worsened the already economic depression crippling our country from success. Instead of seeking a cover up, these groups should have been seeking change.
Due to the growing desperation of the plains states, the only option left was for them to rely on government to help them out of this disaster. The plains states which were traditionally democratic, turned to join the rest of America in voting in president Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt and his cabinet took in ideas from people of every state, and country aiming to find a proper solution to solve our nations suffering. “The federal soil erosion agent there noted in 1937 that businessmen, who had been arguing that “the conditions were being over emphasized and this area was getting more than its share of adverse publicity.” Now were agreed that “the control of wind erosion in the dust bowl is well out of control and are willing to allow any action of the federal government may take to put into operation” Truth squad had to send out a new emissary, to admit there was truth in the horrific paintings of the Dust Bowl, pleading for $10 million in water facilities” (Worster 41). The Plain’s region waited until years of being broken down with no other alternative to admit that they needed federal government involvement, and recovery. It should have never reached this drastic point permanently damaging our agriculture, economy, and resilience.
In hopes of new possibilities many of the plains people began abandoning their land to resettle further in the west. “Due to the former supply of cheap Mexican workers being cut off due to immigration restriction, Oklahomans and Texans now came to fill in those jobs” (Worster 52-53). The high number of Dust Bowl refugees made receiving and retaining a job super competitive, leaving thousands of refugees homeless. This led to many Californian’s being left with feelings of hostility, but also to a new genre in literature which became known as American classics. The theme of destruction, greed, and ruin followed in writings and many other art forms now prized and seen as lessons today.
I believe if the nation would in fact had been quicker to pick up on the need for agricultural reform than this disaster would not have reached such devastating heights. Millions of dollars would have been saved, allowing our economy to recover sooner from the Great Depression instead of worsening it. The complete ruin of agriculture, and means of food for our country, as well as many others in the world would have been replenished, also securing our economy. Lastly the relocation of millions of refugees leaving many homeless, and western states overpopulated could have been prevented. The blind optimism, greed, and pride in Dust Bowl farmers was a dangerous combination that almost self-destructed our country into ruins.
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