Civilian Conservation Corp: Lessons from the Great Depression

“American Experience”: Civilian Conservation Corp

Directed by Robert Stone (2009)

Film Review

Between the COVID19 lockdown, curfews in many cities, and impending martial law if the riots continue, the US economy is taking a severe hammering – which many predict will produce higher unemployment than the Great Depression.

This 2009 documentary looks at the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) Roosevelt created when he took office in 1933. It served the dual the dual purpose of putting 2-3 million men to work and repairing the vast environmental damage wreaked by 200 years of laissez-faire agriculture. Prior to the 1930s, US farmers were unaware of the importance of using windbreaks to prevent erosion, replenishing soil nutrients with fertilizers, or rotation cropping. Until 1900, farmers and plantation owners simply abandoned their land when it became infertile and moved west.

In the 1930s, thousands of US farmers were forced to abandon their land, due to droughts, brought on by rampant deforestation, and massive topsoil loss in dust storms.

Roosevelt’s CCC was the very first national environmental program in the US. CCC members planted 2.3 billion trees, created 800 billion state parks, fought forest fires, and restored healthy pastures on thousands of farms. In addition to cutting ski trails in New England (thus launching the US ski industry), the CCC built Camp David,* the Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and the Appalachian Trail.

Closed to women, the CCC was run by the Army with rigid army discipline. There were 200 men each camp and all US states had several. They received $1 a day for six hours work, plus all the meat and eggs they could eat.** All recruits who were illiterate learned to read. There was also an opportunity to undergo vocational training in the evening (mainly typing, plumbing and electrical work.

Most men sent $25 a month to their families, which was instrumental in reviving many local economies.

After Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the CCC was dissolved, and nearly all 2.3 million recruits were mustered into the US Army.


*Camp David is the country retreat for the US president.

**As with the COVID19 lockdown, farmers were forced to slaughter most of their cattle prior to the formation of the CC. Owing to massive unemployment, no one could afford to buy their meat.

 

 

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