Saturday, March 16, 2013


I've been reading a fair amount of midcentury history lately--the depression, war, postwar, that sort of thing--and what I can't get over is the amazing amount of stuff we used to make in those days.  First cars, and highways to run them on.   In the depression dams, and public buildings. In my youth I knew an old guy who remembered his time on the Hoover Dam the way others would remember their time at Guadalcanal.  I had a law clerk once who said that when the next great earthquake arrived he wanted to be inside the LA federal courthouse because he figured anything built by the on cost-plus could withstand anything.

And then the war: rifles of course, and uniforms, but that was barely the beginning: whole buzzing storms of fighter planes, flotillas of carriers to deliver them, hordes of high-flying bombers to glower over them all.  And not  just built them: built them knowing they would be destroyed, shot out of the sky, sent off to the bottom of the briney deep, we well knowing that we would and could and did build them all again.  We seemed to have no end of metal to bash into things, or oil with which to feed them.

And then after the wars the cars.  And the superhighways.  And the washing machines: I got an early break in the newspaper biz when a somewhat less than sober young engineer catalogued for me the defects in the 1962 GEs.

All of which implies the labor: the armies of workers marching through the door in Fritz Lang's Metropolis. And the strikes: another thing we tend to forget were how violent or disruptive were the near numberless labor-management conflicts of those days.   It was mostly a guy thing, something you did with you buds (inadequate word: Aussie "mates" is much more to the point) before you went off  hunting together.

I don't mean to go overboard on the nostalgia here.  It was pretty awful, the way we ripped through the planet and through each other.  It was also a way of life, the only one we knew.  One may speculate on the etenet to which it was hard-wired.  But we've still got a (dying) generation who cannot imagine it any other way.  And their children and grandchildren who have not yet invented one. 

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