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Let the invasion of friends and neighbors begin

A Black Blizzard approaching Stratford, TX on April 18, 1935.
A Black Blizzard approaching Stratford, TX on April 18, 1935.
NOAA George E. Marsh Album

The debacle in the Gulf of Mexico continues unabated. Oil gushes out at a rate that appears unstoppable. Talking heads, politicians, and social activists wring their hands and chatter endlessly.

BP has become a pariah, with CEO Tony Hayward appearing somewhat discombobulated. His appearance before a House subcommittee had the qualities of an SNL comedy skit that didn’t quite hit the mark because no one was laughing.

Speaking of an SNL skit gone sour, what about that grand address from the Oval Office? In an effort to demonstrate leadership in the midst of disaster, President Obama spoke to the nation on Tuesday night. The expectation level was extremely high, but all Obama managed to do was conjure up skeletons of Jimmy Carter’s helplessly hopeless response to the troubles and pressures that swallowed his presidency.

Even Chris Matthews, MSNBC’s chief Obama cheerleader, trashed the speech and performance. Keith Olberman and company piled on. Given the previous support for every word uttered by President Obama, their criticism revealed much. Evidently true believers require their political messiahs to always walk on water, even when it’s polluted by ever shifting lakes of black gold.

The Gulf Coast will suffer repercussions for many years. No words can adequately describe the horrors of the devastation. There is a sense that this crisis is unprecedented, for that is what we are told. Commentators repeatedly report that it is the worst environmental and ecological disaster in history—it might even rise to the apocalyptic level.

However, let’s take a small step backwards in time for history has a way of reminding us that we have the capacity to overcome and adapt.

In the western United States, the 1930s were a ghastly plague of Biblical proportions. The relentless dust storms of the Dirty Thirties were an environmental and ecological nightmare. Severe drought was a significant factor, but the conditions for the catastrophe were largely manmade.

In wave after wave of settlers, the native grasses of the Great Plains had been plowed under and replaced by crops. For centuries those grasses had anchored the soil and stored moisture even during extended dry spells. The land was scarred and suffered many decades of farming without the application of any techniques to prevent erosion.

The fallout was truly an epic tragedy—rich topsoil dried into dust and blew away, with huge black clouds spreading east and south. The great moving blankets of dirt were given names such as “Black Blizzards” or “Black Rollers” as they progressed across the country, reducing visibility in many places to a mere few feet. The skies were darkened over the east coast. Much of the soil was deposited in the Atlantic Ocean.

It wasn’t finished and cleaned up in a week, a month or a year. There was no CNN or FOX News channel to keep a meter running to count the days.

A massive area of 100,000,000 acres became known as the Dust Bowl. It was a cancerous tribulation that metastasized across five states—Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas.

The human toll was horrific—the dislocation and mass exodus nearly impossible for us to fathom. A new sickness known as dust pneumonia joined up with malnutrition to wreak havoc—it brought deprivations and death. More than a half-million people were left homeless, and a massive westward migration took place.

By 1940, 2.5 million people had left the Great Plains. Many pioneered in California, but instead of discovering or experiencing a land of milk and honey, they found economic conditions as dismal as those they sought to escape. Possessing little to nothing, they moved from area to area, and labored for starvation wages picking fruit and other crops.

The Great Plains recovered. There are inescapable facts about life on planet earth: Bad stuff happens and mistakes are made. As long as humans are involved there’ll be errors and calamities, but if we remain engaged and kicking, there’s always genuine hope.

History compels us to comprehend that cataclysmic damage can actually be redeemed. As terrible as the present manmade quagmire is, we ought to be encouraged by the past. We are one nation under God, so we’re in this grievous mess together, but government is not the solution.

It is a million or more mile march, but the Gulf Coast will endure. Let the people lead by example—may we actively mobilize armies of citizens from across the country to stand shoulder to shoulder working together for as long as the journey takes.

Let the invasion of friends and neighbors begin.


  • lg 5 years ago

    Thanks for perspective. I must have been absent the day they covered the "dust bowl" and remained largely ignorant on the subject.

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