Saturday, November 08, 2008

Freedom From Fear

I began David M. Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize winning book Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 the other night. In a queasy parallel with our own economic woes, it begins on the cusp of the stock market crash of 1929, an event that ushered in the Great Depression and all its consequent hardships. This massive economic disruption, Kennedy points out, also came to symbolize the end of an era of massive and prolonged industrial expansion.

The old adage, "may you live in interesting times," seems particularly apt in describing the tectonic social and economic shifts that occurred during the first one third of the twentieth century. Kennedy describes a study commissioned by the Hoover Administration, Recent Social Trends, that sought to detail the many aspects of American life at this time. This included, according to Kennedy:

the Great War, mass immigration, race riots, rapid urbanization, the rise of giant industrial combines like U.S. Steel, Ford, and General Motors, new technologies like electrical power, automobiles, radios, and motion pictures, novel social experiments like Prohibition, daring campaigns for birth control, a new frankness about sex, woman's suffrage, the advent of mass-market advertising and consumer financing. "These," the researchers declared, "are but a few of the many happenings which have marked one of the most eventful periods of our history."

Astounding, to say the least.

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