WAR & PEACE: Pursuit of Happiness

WAR & PEACE: Pursuit of Happiness
WAR & PEACE Ten years ago next week the U. S.
entered the tenth and worst depression in its history. On the morning
of October 24, 1929, the stockmarket that had been slowly declining
skidded sickeningly, plunged down, and kept on going. Unknown to
anybody, its future unforeseen, its consequences incalculable, the
Great Depression set in. But it was not called that. The names that
people give to things reveal what they think about them, and the name
that the U. S. gave to its crisis was the ringing and melodramatic
Crash. It was the beginning of a national emergency, perhaps the greatest since
the period when an Illinois lawyer named Abraham Lincoln, brooding over
a political speech, decided to let the phrase, “a house divided against
itself cannot stand,” remain in the text. Off in the unknown future lay
a sequence of collisions and calamities, no one of which would have
been believed for a minute by the industrious philosophers of 1929.
While the echoes of the crash were still rolling, the ardent Charles
Mitchell, supersalesman of the boom years, said calmly, “I am still of
the opinion that the reaction has badly overrun itself.” Jimmy Walker,
defeating Fiorello LaGuardia for Mayor of New York, asked that movie
houses show only cheerful pictures in an attempt to brighten the
general gloom. A world that saw full-page advertisements offering
Manhattan apartments for $45,000 a year, and sable coats for $30,000 to
$50,000—a world so jittery that a decline in U. S. Steel to $195 a
share meant a panic—would not have believed that the national wealth
could drop by some $62,000,000,000 in a few years, or that the nation
could survive if it did. Survivors. But last week as the first stages of another crisis dominated
men's minds, and bred grim forebodings of the future, the survivors of
the last appeared more numerous and more meaningful than the
casualties. Theoreticians of the movies in 1929, pondering the box
office of Broadway Melody and wondering if the talkies were here to
stay, could not have believed that 1938-39 would see the movies'
greatest success—not a musical with an all-star cast, but an animated
cartoon based on a German fairy tale, Snow White, in which dwarfs,
gentle beasts, magic, and witchcraft were combined for the pleasure of
children. Still less could they have visualized Pinocchio which promised to be more successful. No prophet of 1929, peering
into the coming decade, could foresee the growth and acceptance of a
native American art—the Iowa landscapes of Grant Wood, serene
and sunny; the turbulent Missourians of Thomas Benton ,
calling up the hard-eyed, banjo-playing, riverboat life of the Central South;
the innocent art of John Kane, who put the steel mills and freight trains
of Pittsburgh on canvas for the first time and who took machinery in
his stride. “Look at those trains!” he said, as he painted Turtle Creek
Valley with the green hills and the red brick houses in the background,
beyond the smoky railroad yards. “Look at those trains, gaily defying
me to paint them right!”