Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Great Depression -The Wall Street Crash

The Great Depression


"They used to tell me I was building a dream
With peace and glory ahead
Why should I be standing in line
Just waiting for bread?" 

— E.Y. Harburg, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"

The Great Depression / The Dirty Thirties: Home to dust bowl farmers, reedy-voiced folk singers and rail-riding hobos. Life pretty much sucks unless you're lucky enough to be a rich socialite, in which case you can expect to be involved in a wacky screwball comedy which may or may not involve either three short, bumbling men named Larry, Moe and Curly, or two fast-talkers named Groucho and Chico and their mute accomplice Harpo (as the Depression drove prices plummeting through the floor, those who had money and managed not to lose it in the crash suddenly found their cash increasing in value). Or if you're female, you could ditch the dust bowl and head off to Hollywood, become an actress, and wear long, sexy gowns on premiere night, showing off some tanned skin.

Otherwise, you would be scraping to survive, as Steinbeck wrote in The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. For some, it's a time to run wild to take what you want against the fat cats who exploited the people as one of the Public Enemies like John Dillinger or the bank robbing couple Bonnie and Clyde. Others found more constructive paths, such as folk singer Woody Guthrie who rode the rails Bound for Glory singing as the voice of the underprivileged, or the pulp and newspaper-strip writers who were busily concocting Proto-Superhero stories. Finally, two Jewish boys manage to sell their seemingly preposterous story of a titanically strong hero in blue tights and red cape that changed the burgeoning comic book medium forever with a whole new fantasy genre.

Against this, President Herbert Hoover found himself completely in over his head, refusing to accept the reality of how bad the times were, while blindly mouthing absurd statements like "Prosperity is just around the corner." He was replaced by Franklin D. Roosevelt who did his best to pull America out of the economic ruin with his New Deal. (Hoover wasn't necessarily that incompetent; he did make efforts to fix the Great Depression. But they were all cases of too little too late.)

In addition, you could be a globe-hopping Adventurer Archaeologist in foreign parts having adventures with the natives while fighting the Nazis who are searching for any artifact that would give them the edge in a coming war.

If you're in Europe, chances are you are living in the Nazi or some other fascist version of Ruritania, trying to forget your troubles at the cabaret while the Black Shirt goons become more bolder and brutal outside as your country slides into a fascist hell. As for the rest of the world, the communists seem to be the greater threat, until Those Wacky Nazis start getting greedy enough to betray their true ambitions (and for those already under communism, like say, some parts of the Soviet Union, well, they are about to learn the wonders of cannibalism, or worse, end up in The Gulag for thinking unhappy thoughts about Josef Stalin). At that the Western powers slowly begin to realize that appeasing them is making them worse and they have to stand up to them.

The period lasts from The Wall Street Crash of 1929 up until the beginning of World War II. Note that in Real Life there were several sub-periods; the Hoover years, the New Deal years up to 1937, a second recession and a subsequent 1939-41 recovery that was just picking up steam when the war build-up started. Also, large European countries experienced the worst, nightmarish part of the Depression during 1930-1932, with unemployment and widespread poverty, but recovered more or less in the next few years - so for a German living under the Nazis 1938 was a prosperous year, not part of a crisis, unless you were one of the "undesirables" of course, who were facing a nightmare about to get far, far worse.

It should also be noted that the mass suicides of financial professionals (jumping from office buildings or hanging) of 1929 are a long-standing Urban Legend — only about twenty people killed themselves immediately after the Crash and about one hundred in all. 23,000 people did kill themselves in the first year though.

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