27 November 2012

Ken Burns' "The Dust Bowl"

Watch The Dust Bowl Preview on PBS. See more from The Dust Bowl.
“We ate so poorly,” says Dust Bowl survivor Clarence Beck, “that the hobos wouldn’t come to our house.” 
This reminds me that my grandparents' farm in southern Minnesota was beyond the northern fringe of the drought.  When hobos came to the door, my grandmother would give them a chore to do, then one good meal and sleep in the barn, and then send them on their way.
More than anything else, The Dust Bowl is about a certain self-destructive strain in the American character that prizes individual will over collective responsibility, stigmatizes real or perceived failure, and stubbornly refuses to learn from mistakes for fear of being thought weak...

There are appalling accounts of farmers continuing to use equipment that pulverized topsoil rather than return to more difficult but responsible methods — even after repeated expert warnings that they were destroying the land — because doing so would have been less “efficient,” and because they didn’t like academic pointy-heads telling them their business. “We always had hope that next year was gonna be better,” says survivor Wayne Lewis. “We learned slowly, and what didn’t work, you tried it harder the next time. You didn’t try something different. You just tried harder, the same thing that didn’t work.”
This is a superb documentary.  I highly recommend it.  (I can't seem to correct the distortion of the embed, but it resolves after you click the fullscreen option).


  1. So relevant to farmers here in Alabama as well. I remember my grandfather telling me stories about how the boll weevil decimated the cotton crops and farmers were going broke. At some point, a guy 'came from the government' and convinced them all to grow soy beans instead. The year they switched, they made more money on soy beans than they had made on cotton in a decade. In fact, they were flat out delighted because they made so much money that they could afford to grow cotton again the next year. *cue my grandfather's guffaws*

  2. Agree, it was excellent. Very depressing, but highly educational. The first hint I had that the Dust Bowl was man's own doing was from another documentary some years ago. I was astounded that I heard nothing about that aspect of the crisis from my school teachers. Just goes to show that whatever the prevailing political trend is at the time will have very long-lasting consequences, and I'm speaking of not only the subject, but how it was taught in history class. Humans, we are very hard headed. --A.

  3. You bring up a good point anon. I'm Cherokee so my family always assumed the dust bowl was a direct result of killing the buffalo, but it's true the history books left that out.
    My husband is english this series is a real eye opener for him. And yes, VERY depressing, but I'm happy to have found it.


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