Monday, July 13, 2015

After the war -- unrest, confusion

War victory celebration
The world that remained at the end of World War I was, depending on where you were, a conflux of bittersweet events.

Clearly the impact in Europe was different from that of rural Indiana, but the resultant unrest, chaos or change was impossible to ignore.

Short-term, there was an economic downturn but it appears the recession was more a product of American condition than fiscal uncertainty. In short, the country's manufacturing base wanted to make and move goods, so it did.

Most Americans were still too poor to buy the stuff. An automobile or refrigerator was still far outside the confines of the average rural Indiana budget.

In Washington, President Woodrow Wilson was replaced by Warren G. Harding. Harding had no policy and no intent on forming a legacy. He was essentially installed as president and he designed as his motto, a "return to normalcy." He was far from a consensus choice by the Republicans. He also died in office, replaced by Silent Calvin Coolidge, who might have even been less inspiring.

What had emerged during and after the war was more disconcerting, and was probably the result of a perfect storm of circumstances.

It's worth noting that in the 1920 presidential election, a Socialist-labor advocate from Terre Haute named Eugene B. Debs garnered 3.5 percent of the popular votes, suggesting unrest was afoot. Debs was in prison at the time, for speaking out against the war in 1917. Yes, that was illegal then.

The impact of all this does indeed reach into the Whitewater Valley and the complexities reveal that not many Hoosiers of good standing were untouched.

Far away, in the South, a new form of unrest was brewing -- the Ku Klux Klan was reorganizing, offering a new policy and a new agenda. Within a couple of years after the war ended, the Klan's message would come booming into Indiana and a decade of shame would evolve.

Why Indiana? Why not?

Actually, Indiana is one of several states where the Klan flourished in the 1920s, but Indiana is perhaps the only state to actually admit to it. Other states pretend it wasn't happening there, but it is known that the KKK wielded enormous clout in Indiana; it's unclear how much power they had elsewhere, though they were heavily invested in Chicago politics.

The Klan's role in Indiana cannot be understated, and the reasons why it flourished in the Hoosier state are easy to understand.

There is something to be learned from it, and we're not getting very far in that area.

In the end, the simple analysis of the end of World War I and the beginning of the Great Depression a decade later: America fought the great fight to preserve its way of life, and when it came home, it learned that its way of life wasn't working very well.

There were those who spoke softly and firmly about how to address that.

Hoosiers listened.



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