The 1930s was a decade that was dominated by fear, but also had some bright spots along the way. The Depression had spread all around the world, not just in the United States, which brought unemployment to millions of workers and fostered dictators to come in to power - especially Hitler. Also, the fear of Communism helped to establish dictators, and terrorism became a weapon that subdued civilian populations. "There was so much fear of war that democracies became incapable of averting the same," according to R. J. Unstead in his book "The Thirties."
The brighter side of the '30s came with the New Deal in America. Away from the distressed areas, people enjoyed a better standard of living and dazzling choices of entertainment. Advances moved forward in the fields of science, medicine, industry and transportation. Like other decades in the past, the '30s helped to shape the life we have today.
A turning point in history was the collapse of the New York Stock Market in October 1929. Businesses failed, people were thrown out of work, and because there was no money to spend by consumers, factories closed. In Europe, countries, which relied on American loans, were asked to repay them. Austria's biggest banks closed and six million workers in Germany lost their jobs. Britain's industries - coal, steel, textiles and shipbuilding suffered the most. "American loans had supported the economy of Latin America and Eastern Europe, where prices of products like coffee and wheat dropped drastically. Cuba's sugar exports fell to a quarter of their 1924 value; Poland's trade declined to less than a third of its 1929 level; Brazilian and Japanese exports fell by over 30 per cent, Australia's and Canada's by over 25 per cent."
Even though the 1920s had mostly been a period of booming prosperity, the Depression had already begun in parts of America even before the crash of 1929. Uneven distribution of wealth contributed to this period of trouble. The rich were too rich and there were too few of them; the poor were too numerous and could afford to spend very little "If profits had been more evenly shared, if wages had been increased, if sick industries like coal-mining, textiles, the railroads and farming had been given help, this great country would have coped with a Stock Market crisis. There were of course many Americas. There were the thriving industrial cities of the east. There was California, with its film-making, fruit and oil wells, Texas with its cattle and oil, the Midwest, with its farming and manufactures, Florida, where the millionaires disported themselves. There were also areas of poverty and backwardness - the south, where cotton farming was in a bad way and where wages and social conditions remained at their lowest. There were the farmlands of the west where the Great Plains suffered from drought and dust-storms, the run-down quarters of great cities where poor immigrants and Negroes inhabited slums and Ghettos."
"Many Americans, from President Hoover down, believed sincerely in individualism. Profits and losses were the sole concern of individual businessmen. It was no part of the Government's business to fix prices or guarantee production costs. The tax system favored the wealthy in the belief that they would use their money to start new industries and create more jobs. When strikes occurred, these were generally short-lived, for the government favored the employers against the workers. The unions were also hampered by small membership and by the 'open shop' principal, whereby non-union workers had the same rights as unionists. In any case, the unions showed little interest in the unskilled worker or the Negro. Corruption was a national disease. It was rife, not merely among police officers bribed by bootleggers (illegal traders in alcohol), but tin the highest circles. In the '20s, officials close to the President were involved in scandals and, in the '30s, Huey Long, a popular champion of the poor, openly ruled the state of Louisiana by violence and bribery. Prohibition of alcohol came to an end in 1933, but it was harder to wipe out the corruption. Thus, the country was in no condition to meet a crisis. When it came, panic was followed by near-collapse."
(Continued next week)