History 1302, Section 001
2 March 2012
The Dust Bowl
Donald Worster believed the Dust Bowl was “the inevitable outcome of a culture that deliberately, self-consciously, set itself that task of dominating and exploiting the land for all it was worth”(Worster, 4). He investigated this phenomenon, which took place in the “dirty thirties”, and came to the conclusion that capitalism was to blame. The inhabitants of the Great Plains responded quite differently than the government after the disaster finally subsided. Both the reaction to the Dust Bowl and the events leading up to it are good representations how greedy the American culture was at the time.
When the Great Plains were first taken over by Americans in the early twentieth century, people saw opportunity. This land consisted of miles and miles of fields, and farmers knew they could prosper. Worster believed “what brought them to this region was a social system, a set of values, an economic order. There is no word that so fully sums up those elements as ‘capitalism’”(Worster, 5). The families who moved into the area were not to blame for the eventual disaster because, as Worster states, “the culture was operating in precisely the way it was supposed to” (Worster, 4). Families migrated into Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and the surrounding areas and did what they do best. They farmed. Capitalist ideals made them believe it was acceptable to consider nature as capital (Worster, 6). While Americans in other part of the country were doing business selling clothing or cars or groceries, the people occupying the plains turned their farms into businesses in order to make more than enough money needed to simply survive. They farmed and farmed until the land was exploited beyond its means.
It only took 50 years for the once prospering farmland to turn into a layer of dust (Worster, 4). While the rest of the country was feeling the effects of the stock market crash, farmers in the rural area were still managing. “Then the droughts began, and they brought the farmers to their knees” (Worster, 10), argues Worster. The 1930s brought very little rain, turning the already overused land into a desert. On top of the massive drought, destructive dust storms held a very large presence in the area for the greater part of the decade; however, had the farmers not had the capitalistic idea that land should be used until it could be used no more, the Dust Bowl may not have been such a substantial event. Worster thought “the storms were mainly the result of stripping the landscape of its natural vegetation to such an extent that there was no defenses against the dry winds, no sod to hold the sandy or powdery dirt” (Worster, 13). The farmers found themselves with a huge problem and no way to fix it.
When the dust storms finally subsided at the end of the “dirty thirties”, the Great Plains was left in shambles, and the locals handled the disaster a little differently than Washington. The federal government, and more specifically members of the Works Progress Administration, ventured out to the Dust Bowl to survey the damage (Worster, 35). They examined everything from the crops to the livestock to the quality of the land and determined which locations were hit the hardest (Worster, 35). According to Worster, “by 1936, in each of the counties, federal aid for agricultural failure had already totaled at least $175 per person” (Worster, 35), and that was only the beginning. Although Roosevelt ignored the catastrophe in the Great Plains for the first year of his presidency, he devised a drought relief package once he received enough complaints. As Worster stated, “the President asked Congress for $525 million in drought relief, and it was promptly given” (Worster, 39). Although the emergency funds were helpful, they did not produce instant results. Roosevelt knew the dust was still blowing on the plains, so to manage the immediate problem,...
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