You’d think that after a year and a half of reviewing rightwing Christianist textbooks we’d be incapable of being surprised, but wow: this week’s look at how one of them covers the great Depression departs so sharply from what most of us call reality that you may want to strap in and wear a helmet to keep your brains from messing up your nice shag carpet.
As usual, of the two books we’re looking at, it’s our 8th-grade text, America: Land I Love (A Beka, 1994), that’s the troublemaker. In fact, this week, we’re hardly going to reference our other book, the 11th/12th-grade United States History for Christian Schools (Bob Jones University Press, 2001), because while it still has a conservative slant, it at least presents a recognizable version of historical reality. Land I Love, on the other hand, is so wedded to rightwing ideology that it simply insists that The Great Depression was maybe a little uncomfortable, but not nearly as bad as the socialists in media, government, and academe would have you believe. Mostly, the authors suggest again and again, the greatest tragedy of the Depression is that liberal politicians used it as an excuse to expand government and destroy individual freedom, because that’s just how FDR liked to roll.
As we noted last week, Land I Love even relocates the stock market crash of 1929, and the speculative frenzy that led up to it, from their chapter on the 1920s to their chapter on the ’30s, the better to blame the crash on “big government.” You see, all through the ’20s, which the book’s previous chapter hailed as a time of incredible new technology and consumer conveniences that made American life better, there was actually a sinister undercurrent:
Although business boomed in the 1920s, much of this prosperity was based on easy credit. The Federal Reserve Bank kept interest rates low, making it easy for businesses and individuals to take out loans. This “loose money” policy encouraged people to go into debt … Many ordinary people bought new homes, cars, and appliances on credit. Instead of paying the full price of these goods at the time of purchase, they paid only a small monthly payment on the installment plan. As long as people could buy on credit, factories kept busy and people had jobs.
And where the chapter on the 1920s praised Calvin Coolidge for allowing business to prosper without burdensome regulation, this chapter discovers that there was a lot of irresponsible greed in the stock market, for some reason — most likely moral corruption due to not reading the Bible and women leaving the house for “book club,” but we are just guessing. Land I Love gives a fairly standard chronology of the events that led up to the crash — irrational exuberance, investors buying on margin, and the delusion that the market would rise forever, followed by the crash as investors tried to sell off their rapidly declining stocks, and then the spiral into depression as credit disappeared and businesses laid off workers who could no longer buy stuff, leading to even more economic contraction. And then we get these weird paragraphs:
Government intervention. When, in 1930, many banks could not meet their obligations, the Federal Reserve decided to shrink the money supply. But this action only increased the number of bank failures. The Federal Reserve’s handling of the money supply deepened and prolonged the Depression.
Three reasons can be given for the severity of the Great Depression: (1) the desire of a few to get rich quick, (2) the widespread practice of buying goods on credit, and (3) government interference in the free market economy.
So ultimately, the greed that’s part of the natural operation of unfettered capitalism is merely an anomaly, but the mean old Federal Reserve’s tight-money policy — or maybe that earlier loose credit? Or both? — made for the crash and the Depression. And just to make things even sillier, on the very next page, we learn that Herbert Hoover addressed the Crash by instituting “a return to sound credit and banking practices” — which would presumably include that 1930 tightening of credit that “deepened and prolonged the Depression.” But don’t worry; in just a few more pages the abandonment of the Gold Standard and the expansion of the money supply are condemned as making the Depression worse. Obviously, everything would have worked out if there had just not been a Federal Reserve in the first place.
We also learn that while Herbert Hoover was a great guy, he “became President of the United States in 1929 just in time to inherit the ‘blame’ for the Great Depression,” which Hoover attributed to “the excesses of the stock market and other unwise speculations.” Remember, this is the speculation and stock market that flourished under the wise hands-off policies of the great Calvin Coolidge. In any case, the text tells us, Hoover was pretty awesome:
President Hoover felt that families, churches, charities, and neighbors should look after the needs of the unemployed. Some people accused Hoover of lacking compassion for the needy, but no one understood the needs of suffering people more than the Great Humanitarian. After World War I, Hoover had supervised the vast relief of millions in Europe. If conditions in the United States had been as harsh as conditions in Europe, the President would have proposed more government aid. When asked about letting people go without food or shelter, he replied: “This is not an issue as to whether people shall go hungry or cold in the United States. It is solely a question of the best method by which hunger and cold shall be prevented.”
And of course, that method was private charity, which was wonderful and did all that was needed. Land I Love does a lovely bit of numerical sleight of hand:
By 1933, many private agencies had mobilized to provide relief. The YMCA alone had 614 centers that provided bed and food for 62,000 men in the cities. Catholics established 600 child—care homes, providing for over 80,000 children. Jewish communities founded 60 institutions for poor children. Goodwill Industries had 75 dormitories scattered throughout the country.
See? Problem solved! Unless, you know, there were more than 62,000 homeless men in all of America’s cities. Then things might have gotten a little dicey.
Is there any mention of “Hoovervilles” or of the “Bonus Army” occupation of Washington DC in 1932? Do not be silly! (To its credit, U.S. History covers this topic extensively — including Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s brutal expulsion of the WWI veterans. Simply more evidence that Bob Jones University is full of America-hating commies, so good patriots should send their kids to Pensacola Christian College, the publishers of A Beka books.)
But the important thing to take from the early years of the Great Depression — so important that it’s underlined, so you know it’ll be on the test — is that
Because families, churches, and local charities provided relief, government assistance was unnecessary. However, some politicians insisted that government relief was needed to supplement the private agencies. Rather than taxing the people, they said the government could simply print more money.
We know that government assistance was never, ever needed, as illustrated by this example from a section on the Dust Bowl:
The American Red Cross, a private charity, provided relief for many farm families. When Congress proposed a bill for government relief, President Hoover asked the Red Cross if it needed additional funds. The Red Cross replied that not only did they not need government funds, but the mere suggestion of government assistance had already caused a decline in private contributions. The bill was defeated, and private contributions to the Red Cross resumed.
But this clear-cut lesson that private charity fixes everything just fine was obviously not enough for the anti-American forces that rose to prominence during the Depression. In fact, the book insists that many of the worst stories of the 1930s were wholly invented:
The politicians who wanted government welfare refused to give up. With the help of the press, they led people to believe that drought-stricken families in Arkansas had started “hunger riots.” When the United States Army sent troops to the scene, they discovered that the whole thing was a hoax — there were never any riots or starving farmers.
This is going to come as quite a surprise to the good folks who compiled the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, who seem to think that a mob of hungry people gathered in the town of England on January 3, 1931:
approximately fifty angry farmers converged on the town of England, demanding food to feed to the starving members of their community. The crowd grew to include hundreds once in town, and the merchants, with assurances of repayment by the Red Cross, agreed to open their doors and offer all they had to avert any violence from the mob. The crowd dispersed peacefully, but the incident created a nationwide stir.
Oh, OK, so it was more of a near-riot. And really, who’s to say what “starving” means? Maybe they were just lazy. And so it never happened at all. Also, the Encyclopedia project is put together by the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the Central Arkansas Library System, so why would you trust a big government agency to tell you the truth anyway? Never happened.
Furthermore, Land I Love informs us, that one novel The Grapes of Wrath is actually fiction, and not to be believed. In a section titled “Propaganda” and subheaded “Exaggerated fiction,” we learn that Steinbeck was a very bad man who hated America:
In 1939, John Steinbeck (1902-1968) wrote The Grapes of Wrath. This novel described the plight of the “Okies,” farm families from western Oklahoma who went to California in search of jobs. Most families who went west did not experience the hardships that Steinbeck presented in his novel. Steinbeck openly supported labor violence and strikes instigated by socialist groups to keep the Okies from earning a living as migrant farm laborers in California.
Yes, socialists instigated strikes to prevent workers from making a living. What the hell is these reds anyways? Also, we learn that when John Ford’s film adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath was shown in the USSR, the plan to portray Americans as suffering from the excesses of capitalism completely backfired:
Rather than believing that free enterprise in America had failed, the Russian people left the movie theater envious of the poor Okies. “Why, they all had their own cars and trucks!” they exclaimed. The Russians had expected to see the Okies walk to California. Instead, they drove. Far from being starving refugees, the Okies even had money or found work along the way to pay for the gas needed on their long trip to California.
But that’s not all! It turns out that our most enduring images of the Depression are dirty commie lies:
In America, socialist photographers and artists produced misleading pictures of the “Okies” and the mountaineers of Appalachia and the Ozarks. These mountaineers did not have the modern conveniences of homes in the towns or cities, but they did not consider themselves to be poor. The Depression actually had little effect on their lives.
Heck, we bet they were overwhelmed by the hospitality of whatever aid they did get, from private organizations only. They were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them. Who knew that Barbara Bush wrote textbooks? And as far as we can tell, Dorothea Lange, while definitely a New Deal supporter, was not a red. Then again, “A red is any son-of-a-bitch that wants thirty cents an hour when we’re payin’ twenty-five!” So maybe she was.
Also, Woody Guthrie never existed, and if he did, nobody liked him. But if they did, it’s only because they’d been fooled by the media and by socialists into thinking times were tough. Which they weren’t.
And here we are at the end of an extra-long helping of lies, from only one of our two textbooks…and we haven’t even gotten to the ascent of that arch-socialist, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Next week should be fun.
Next Week: The ascent of arch-socialist Franklin Delano Roosevelt and how he made Americans dependent on government handouts that made them poorer.
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