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The 20s and 30s
Transcript of The 20s and 30s
Booze and Suffrage
From, "to prohibit" or forbid. As in, you are not allowed to do that.
The question is: why?
I'll Tell You why
Keep in mind this movement started before WWI was over. Using grain for alcohol was seen as a terrible waste of resources. Grain should be used to feed our brave, fighting men overseas.
In the 1920's and before, there was no "social safety net." There was no program or service to turn to if family life went to hell because dad was drinking too much and had lost his job. So, the Women's Christian Temperance Union successfully pressured the government to outlaw alcohol, what they saw as the root of family instability.
But why were the men drinking so much now?
This is where history gets involved. Alcohol was a growing problem because of cities, factories and accessibility. Alcohol was more accessible because more and more people were living in cities that had a bar or liquor store on every block. They were living in cities because that's where the factories were (which was a new thing too). And factory work at the time was even less fun than it is now, so the men doing these jobs were all too willing to take advantage of all the booze that was available. See? History.
Meanwhile in America
The same thing for much the same reasons was going on in the United States as well. In the States, prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933.
In Canada, it lasted from 1920 all the way to 1948. The difference is, we dropped prohibition provincially, roughly from west to east over a period of years.
The Black Market
When you make something illegal, only the criminals will have it. Prohibition created a black market for illegal alcohol almost overnight.
Smuggling alcohol to the U.S. became big business. Crime lords like Al Capone were a direct consequence of the illegal alcohol trade.
Alcohol was served in (sometimes) upscale secret clubs known as "speakeasies" or "blind pigs."
Alcohol was also available for medicinal reasons which caused 'round the block line-ups at doctors' offices around the holidays.
Prohibition Was Dropped by...
1. British Columbia in 1920
2. Manitoba in 1923
3. Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1924
4. Newfoundland in 1925
Ontario and New Brunswick in 1927
5. Nova Scotia in 1930
P.E.I. in 1948
Further Unexpected Consequences
Bootlegging and smuggling operations caused a surge forward in machine gun and automobile technology. Machine guns because the "war on alcohol" was turning out to require a lot of fire power. Hence the "tommy gun."
Cars were improved upon because the smugglers needed to outrun the police. So, they modified their carburetors to run on the very alcohol they were distilling, thus giving them a little extra "oomph."
Unfortunately, because the trade was underground and there was no official quality control, some of the alcohol that was being made was actually methanol which will cause the drinker to go blind and/or die. Not necessarily in that order.
Further, Further Unexpected Consequences
The "temperance movement" (pressure to outlaw alcohol) was largely driven by the Women's Christian Temperance Union. These women felt that alcohol was at the root of all family instability. It goes like this:
- in the beginning of the 20th century, more and more people were moving to the city to...
- get a job in one o' these fancy new factories they got
- factory work back then sucked even worse than it does now
- but, you live in a city: there's a bar on every corner where you can drown your sorrows
- so, you (the man of the house) have spent most of your meager pay at the bar, you're drunk and you go home and take out the rest of your frustrations on your family
Lack of "Social Safety Net."
You have to remember that in the 20s, there was no welfare, Interval House, women's groups, etc. You were on your own. So if dad was always drunk and beating you, there was nowhere to go. So you can see why the women of the country felt the need to leave the "private sphere" of the home and enter the "public sphere" of politics. Who knows if the chicken came before the egg, but fighting for prohibition seems to have naturally led to women's suffrage: the fight for the right to vote.
And so, by 1940, all women in all provinces could vote in both federal and provincial elections.
Scopes Monkey Trial
What was it?
Basically, in 1925, a science teacher working in Tennessee was charged and found guilty of the crime of teaching the theory of evolution.
William Jennings Bryan: lawyer, lobbyist, would-be politician looking to make a big name for himself. He supported a law that would make it illegal to teach any human origin theory that ran counter to the biblical creation story.
John Scopes: a 24 year old science teacher / football coach. He was chosen by the citizens of Dayton Tennessee to challenge the new law by deliberately breaking it.
Clarence Darrow: the lead defence for Scopes and an outspoken agnostic.
Arthur Hays: also on the defence team and a well known free speech advocate.
The First Big Media Trial
This was when radio was still a new and exciting medium. It didn't take long before live reports were being broadcast from the courthouse. The publicity led to a carnival atmosphere including snack vendors and performing monkeys.
A Fair Trial?
- Judge John Rawlson was a known conservative Christian
- the jury was made up of twelve men, eleven of whom were regular church-goers
- the trial was opened with a prayer
- the goal of the defence: to not only acquit Scopes, but have the law itself destroyed
- the goal of the prosecution: well, they thought they were defending civilization itself
But I suppose that's the point: Both sides felt they were fighting to save the very fundamentals of civilization. The prosecution: traditional values. The defence: freedom of conscience and expression.
As the trial wore on, neither side came off very well. Bryan was perceived as being defeated and foolish. Darrow on the hand was seen as being mean-spirited and cynical.
Towards the end, Darrow actually requested a guilty verdict from the jury, which they delivered. This way, Darrow could appeal to a higher court and if the decision was beaten there, it would have much more far-reaching consequences, thus taking the teeth out of the law.
Six days after the trial ended, Bryan died of a heart attack.
The supreme court did indeed overturn the decision, but on a technicality. Even so, the precedent had been set that evolution could indeed be taught alongside creationism.
Depression and Nazis
When studying history, it helps to have a central, often abstract idea, through which we can explain why things happened. Events like WWII and the associated Holocaust very much beg the question: why? In a word: fear.
Originally, the word "fascism" (from the Latin "fasces") simply meant "strength through unity." The ancient Romans represented this idea with an axe bound by a bundle of sticks that was carried in the presence of a magistrate (a kind of judge).
What makes this complicated is that the fascists weren't wrong in that respect; much more can be accomplished together than can be apart. The trouble starts when one group starts blaming all its troubles on another group. And that's what fascism has come to mean: intolerance.
Fear and Intolerance
So let's make the logical connection. Fascism (intolerance) was on the rise throughout the economic depression of the 1930s. Why?
Exactly. When people are fearful, they behave irrationally and aggressively. That's what fear does. So, if you're poor, have an uncertain future and possibly starving, you are especially susceptible to manipulation. You will more easily be persuaded that everything will be okay if we get rid of
Wait. Who's "Them?"
Communists and Jews. That's who. You see, Hitler didn't target just anyone for any old random reason. His power came from people's fear of economic depression. So, he was able to play on an ancient stereotype regarding Jewish culture to plant the idea that a conspiracy of Jewish bankers had a choke-hold on the world economy. He was also able to make the argument that communists would continue to drag the world down into an ever-worsening economic state.
Further Characteristics of Fascism
If you live in a fascist country, you probably:
- go to a lot of parades at which patriotic songs are sung, flags are waved and you watch lots of marching soldiers in shiny uniforms
value your individualism, but rather, place the welfare of the country over your personal goals and desires
- are extremely proud of your country and culture to the point that you believe it is superior to all others
- glorify violence and action
- believe that people who oppose or question your beliefs are a) lying to you and b) weakening your country
- have a "Fuhrer" or father-like, dictatorial leader whom nobody is allowed to oppose or question
Putting It All Together
Understand that the rise of dictatorships and fascism wasn't just happening in Germany. Throughout the thirties, all of Eastern Europe, and bits of Western Europe was under the control of fascist dictators. Heck, even in Canada, the Ku Klux Klan took the opportunity created by despair to try and make some inroads into some of our western provinces. We sent them packing though.
But maybe you can see how a fearful population would be attracted by the no-nonsense, practical approach of the fascists. If you were lucky enough to not be a communist or Jew, you were made to feel really good about yourself and part of a "superior" group that was poised to rise up and literally save the world.
Can We Talk About Monkeys Some More?
You betcha. You see this (still fairly new) idea of evolution gave guys like Hitler some pretty nasty ideas. We know this to be false, but at the time, the fascists were able to use the barely understood idea of evolution to argue that the Aryan (white) "race" was actually, genetically superior to all others. They had charts and everything.
This belief was the driving force behind the study and practice of "eugenics." Eugenics is the deliberate breeding of people for desired genetic traits. Conversely, it could mean the breeding out of undesired traits. This is now seen as being extremely inhumane, unacceptable behaviour. And before you get all judge-y, we did a bit of this in Canada with the forced sterilization of developmentally delayed people.
The Final Analysis
I don't want to do your thinking for you, but I will say this: explaining why something happened is a key part of history. I will never, ever accept an answer like, "I dunno. Some random guy just did this random weird thing." As shocking or unusual or laughable a thing seems to be, there was a logical reason why it happened. Even if you have to take a guess based on very little evidence, that is worth so much more than shrugging your shoulders and giving up.
Not that this was a new problem
And that's important to remember: whether your an anarchist, fascist, communist, moderate or whatever; you likely think that your way of life is the very best for all of humanity. Watch out for people who are completely convinced they're right, kids. They're the most dangerous.
Anyone see the parallel between this and the Enlightenment followed by the Romantic period? You know; fear of pure reason getting out of hand? We're just like the Romantics!