Wednesday, October 17, 2012

America's Volunteer Army

The US unemployment numbers lately of 7 or 8% are fairly shocking (the jobless rate is even higher).  Looking at the unemployment numbers of the Great Depression (25% or so) really puts our current situation into perspective.  Would we have gotten as bad as the Great Depression without the stimulus bills?  Hard to believe that it would have. Without access to alternative universe, we'll never really know how well the stimulus bills worked or if they worked at all.  With the economy steadily improving, slowly, I am just grateful that we didn't have do some of the extraordinary things that FDR had to. Although, some of them, like the CCC, seem really cool.

The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) was one of those extraordinary programs implemented by President Roosevelt.  If you do any hiking in the US today, you owe a big "thank you" to the CCC.  Whether you are hiking in a National Park like the Grand Canyon, one of the state parks across the country, the Appalachian Trail or the Long Trail here in Vermont, there is a very good chance that you are using one of trails they created.  In Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota, there is an easy walk with concrete stairs into the planet's fourth largest cave. If you use a lean-to or a visitor's center, there is a good chance that the CCC built that as well.  They repaired bridges, created fire roads in the National Forests, did stream repair, planted trees among so many other things that we take for granted today. 

The idea of the Corp was to get young Americans to work ... to make idle hands useful and to build character and experience in the process.  Some of them had never had a job.  30,000 men from ages 17 to 23 initially signed up for a grueling job that paid only $1.00 a day, but did include three hardy meals, shelter, clothing and free healthcare.  The food and the healthcare alone made it worth because jobs were hard to come by.  They were assigned to camps, lived in barracks and had to follow a military like schedule. In the nine years of its existence (from 1933 to 1942) some 2.5 million young men participated.  Some famous people came out of the CCC.  Hall of Fame baseballer Stan "the Man" Musial, Hollywood actors Raymond Burr, Walter Matthau and Robert Mitchum and test pilot Chuck Yeager who eventually went on to be the first human to break the sound barrier ... all are veterans of the CCC. 

It is difficult to see something like this happening these days. Obamacare is basically a big handout to the insurance industry and the right wing calls him a socialist.  Can you imagine what they would call him if he revived the CCC?  FDR had his political problems as well. The right wing did indeed call it socialism and the left wing cried fairly loudly as well.  They were concerned that the $1.00 a day work was going to be the new normal.  To keep the left wing off his back, FDR appointed union leaders to run the program. A lot of us wanted Obama to be our generation's FDR. Hope lingers.

When war broke out in 1941, the CCC was disbanded.  Most of the men from the Corp joined the service. The training they received from the CCC was invaluable for the men were in shape, used to regimented living and residing in camps.  The CCC camps were small committees usually in the woods or far away from towns.  Once the war started some of the camps were used as interment camps for Japan Americans or prisoner of war camps. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Be interesting to know, what those who served in the CCC have to say about it... Have you read first hand experiences?... John (I post anonymous because of the ease)