By Oona J.
“Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.” – FDR
During the 1930s, many were impoverished. The economy had crashed, many were unemployed, and poverty was at an all time high. When FDR was elected president, he implemented many things that helped the US to get back on its feet. Although most of his New Deal programs helped, a few decisions hurt the U.S. Big government has been helpful in the past, but how helpful was it really? A big government is good, but it has its downfalls. How much control, or power, should it have over the lives of the citizens, the people that live there? Though providing many necessary services, it also can make some faulty decisions that can be seen as corrupt in the future. Many good decisions were made during the Great Depression, such as the jobs programs of the New Deal, but some bad decisions were made as well, such as implementing the internment of Japanese Americans.
During the Great Depression, FDR created many New Deal programs that helped create jobs and support the poor. One of them was the Public Works Administration, which created public works infrastructure projects. People built things that were beneficial to the public, such as roads and bridges. One of these projects was the Ashburton Pumping Station, which is right next to our school. A beautiful building, this station pumps water to create energy for the surrounding area. Building the station provided jobs, and once it was complete, someone had to run it. Though nowadays we are doing alright economically, it still runs today and provides jobs in the city.
Another program, the WPA, offered jobs for everyone, from women to people of color. One photograph shows African American women participating in an “expert needlework class” (Source G). This appears to be taught by an African American woman as well. These programs offered many opportunities for people of all races and genders. This photo is a fantastic example of that. With less discrimination, there is less poverty. However, though the PWA provided jobs for African Americans, the jobs were often segregated. Many construction jobs hired white men, while women’s work was racially segregated. All opportunities were segregated by gender. Other New Deal programs, such as AAA, didn’t consider African Americans while creating their programs. Farmers were paid to burn their crops, but the sharecroppers they employed got absolutely nothing. Sharecroppers were not included in the realm of “farmer” and were left unpaid and with no work, since there were too many crops and no more needed to be planted.
Another program formed during the New Deal, The Tennessee Valley Authority, provided jobs and cheap electricity. They helped to re-fertilize the soil of rural Tennessee and to bring prosperity to the citizens living there. First, the TVA created jobs by building dams. These dams created cheap electricity through hydropower. Building the dams created jobs for the citizens, and offered them a fair wage. In 1933, Lorena Hickok reported to Harry Hopkins, Director of the Federal Emergency Relief Agency: “Thousands of them are residents of the Valley, working five and a half hours a day, five days a week, for a really LIVING wage.” The TVA also helped farmers enrich their land to grow crops. The TVA encouraged farmers to use fertilizer and crop rotation methods to ensure that the soil was not depleted of its resources, as various crops require different things from the soil. Hickok explains how dire the situation was: “‘Five years is about as long as you can get any crop on this land,’ one farmer told me. ‘Then it’s gone and you have to clear some more and start over again.’”
Big government may have helped its’ citizens through New Deal projects and the TVA, but one decision made during that time definitely did not help. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the United States was thrown into a state of panic. This panic caused the government to set up “internment camps,” where all American citizens of Japanese descent were sent.
“Widespread ignorance of Japanese Americans contribute to a policy received in haste and expected in an atmosphere of fear and anger at Japan” (Source E). Years after Japanese Americans were released, a report published by Congress described how the internment camps were a bad decision and one made in haste. The Americans did not want Japanese near any sort of military bases or the coasts, for fear of the Japanese Americans plotting further attacks on America. They thought that grouping them together and having a watchful eye kept on them would prevent anti-American violence. “Color seems to be the only possible reason why thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry are in concentration camps…there are no Italian-Americans or German…in such camps” (Source C). The NAACP blamed racism for the internment camps. They noted that citizens descended from the other countries America was fighting against, Germany and Italy, were not imprisoned. They pointed out that because the Japanese were different than the majority of most Americans, they were targeted and sent to these camps.
Therefore, a government should have minimal control of its’ citizens. Enough control must be established to help those in need and to ensure safety and comfort for its citizens. However, big decisions that single out a specific race or culture should be decided through much discussion and vote, and the citizens should have a say in these decisions.
I could see why one might say less government is necessary. They would probably prefer to have more freedom and to give less money to the government. However, the people that believe this often have enough money to support themselves. They are ignorant to the poverty that many live in, and are unwilling to help those in need. Therefore, a larger government is needed, and perhaps they could help those against a larger government to understand why a larger government is needed. If poverty rates decline, perhaps the size and power of the government could also be reduced. However, right now, a large government is needed.
If you are a citizen of the U.S., decisions the government makes could have a big impact on your life. If FDR had not made the decisions he made in the 1930s, the US may not be a country today. Those decisions were vital in repairing the state of the U.S. Even if you are young now and things like Social Security and insurance may not matter to you now, once you are older and unable to work, these things will be very important to you. You would want to know that if anything were to happen to you, you would be able to survive and continue living. Consider the good the government does for us, and put yourself in another’s shoes. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt