The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current, May 16, 1962, Page Page 3, Image 3
The Daily, Nebraskan NEBRASKA wnno A AO ATAJjKJAJLjJW: . Is This The Basis For The State's 'Timidity Wednesday, May 16, 1962 AND (EDITOR'S NOTE: The followinc article la another In the Nebraakan'a eeriea el ttoriei to inform th atudent about the Ute of tha State at Nebraaka. The fo. lowing latter waa written by Professor Jamea Morrison, School of Journaileni, hi reply to a recent request. We reprint it here with hia permission. Tola la (imply Mm opinion on Nebraska and Ha people.) By JAMES MORRISON Dear Bob: You have asked me to set down some thoughts on Ne braska and its people. Here they are for what they are worth. In a certain sense the bountiful state of Nebraska was created out of meagre natural resources. People of all kinds and divergent backgrounds transformed this land that had been called the "Great American Desert" into a pro ductive garden. Even its great national forest at Halsey was hand-planted. This arduous process of creation, beset as it was by droughts, grasshopper plagues, floods, panics and depressions, developed a people that do not brag but have a quiet pride, that do not always follow the well traveled road but seek the quieter path of their own individ ual destiny. Only in recent years has the Nebraskan real ized that his state possesses resources that are in short supply elsewhere a virile people, a vast underground wa ter supply and space for living. Formerly, Nebraska was thought of as a place to go through to get to some other place. The discouraged con sidered the land unfit to settle or to live on through choice. Its broad, flat expanse, unbroken by formidable natural barriers to east-west travel, has encouraged through traffic. It has no scenery to compare with the Rockies; no exotic sights like the West Coast; no lush well-watered, flat lands like Iowa or Illinois; no deposits of minerals to speak of. Most of the people kept going to the West; or, if they became discouraged, they turned back East. This tendency to leave the state still persists. But some stayed. Often they were the ones who could go no farther West, or, if they had turned back, could go no farther East. They often felt they were stuck in Ne braska through no fault of their own. So they settled and tried to make a go of it. Soon they discovered a marvelous thing the soil. This land was not the rich, black loam of Iowa or Illinois; nor was it the rocky thin stuff of the East The soil was light, porus, easily worked, and quickly drained. Later investigations proved it to be Loess a wind blown, volcanic ash which made a miraculous seed bed for mineral-rich crops. With water this soil could grow any-, thing. Corn, especially, thrived during the long, searing summers. But there was a catch. Moisture-laden air from the West was wrung dry over the Rockies and the rains from the Gulf were, more often than not, dumped before they reached Nebraska. From historic times the land between the Rockies and the Missouri had been called the "Great American Desert." It was subject to periodic waves of se-. vere, prolonged drought and ample moisture. And these arid periods, seemingly, were just long enough and just severe enough to keep the people at a bare subsistence level. And then the rains came! Ample moisture renewed the people's hopes and native optimism; but it did not pro vide them with the wherewithal to pull up stakes and move out And so Nebraskans came to believe literally in the saying, "The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away.1' And each Nebraskan learned through bitter experience that his own existence depended upon his own resources of mind, body, and soul. He learned the worth of individual freedom. He had to be free to marshall his forces at a moment's notice to meet either drought" or abundance. And then the railroads came. The people were en couraged. The railroads brought immigrants to settle upon the land; the iron horse carted away the surplus crops. But again, there was a catch. Most farmers had to market their crops at about the same time every year to realize money for subsistence and for the new crop. A glutted market depressed prices. And the farmers felt that railroad freight rates were confiscatory. They believed that Wall Street "interests" and Washington politicians through ne farious combinations of great wealth and political power were manipulating prices and the currency. "The Wall Street Giveth and the Wall Street Taketh Away," sayeth the farmers. And so many Nebraskans were tempted to abandon their rugged individualism. They sought security in the schemes dreamed up by Grangers, Greenbackers, and Populists. Nebraska's Bryan and his "cross of Gold" speech swept the Democratic party to power. After a time, the farmer turned back to a reliance on individualism. , And then came the automobile and the mechanization of the farm. The farmer was again encouraged by new sources of labor. But again, there was a catch. Small hold ings became unprofitable and the family farm began to disappear. The farmer and his family drifted to the town and city. Villages shrank and disappeared. The depression hastened the flight of people. Once again Nebraskans turned for help to a paternal government. Under the prodding of Norris, the people were persuaded to accept public control of electric power and irrigation. But a fumbling, snail slow bureaucracy in Washington hundreds of miles re moved from local conditions soon changed the farmer's optimism to pessimism. "The Government Giveth and the Government Taketh Away," sayeth the farmers. "a There seems to be a contradiction on everything the Nebraskan thinks and does. He is secure, yet insecure; he is conservative, yet radical; he believes in both private ownership and public ownership. In his shifting moods and attitudes, the Nebraskan is like most of the people of the great Midlands. Robert C. O'Hara in his recent book, Media for the Millions, discusses these shifting moods and attitudes of the American public. In the following ten paragraphs I had adapted O'Hara's discussion to those moods and atti tudes I consider characteristic of the people of the Mid lands. .' For the most part, the people of the Midlands cling to agrarian values inherited from frontier days. Such rural life placed a great premium on the effectiveness of the "family working" together as a cohesive unit. The Nebras kan valued highly the ability of the individual to conquer the land and to bend it to his will. Unfortunately, there is very little land left to conquer; nature is broken, particu larly that part that can sustain a man the soil. Increas ingly, good Nebraska farms continue to erode to the sea. In small Nebraska towns and on farms a remnant of skilled workers and craftsmen still take pride in their work; if they use machines, the tools are but extensions of the worker's skills. Along Main Street in the Midlands, the small, privately-owned businesses stilll battle for the right of man to be "his own boss." Many vigorous establishments remain to underline the shared belief in the value of the individual as a shrewd bargainer. Although shaken by the cataclysmic upheaval of two World Wars, the people of the Midlands still cling subcon sciously to a belief that the middle west is isolated from the rest of the world by two vast oceans and two broad coastlines. The people continue to be preoccupied by grave concern over parochial problems and the solutions to local perplexities. Only dimly are they aware of the awful im port of the missile silos in the "south forty." Nebraskans live in the "Bible Belt." Sometimes this phrase is spoken proudly, sometimes derisively, depending on the values held dear toy the speaker. Reliance on fain- If i . 6 a place to go through Omalux vs. Nebraska ily fidelity, "self-reliance, frugality, and industry" as the main springs of midwestern life was largely nurtued by the Biblical tradition. People of the Midlands cling to frontier values. These attitudes of mind and heart were the well springs for the virile action of our recent past. It grew out of a life spent in subduing a land that "lay open to the taking." To the farmer the frontier beckoned with visions of end less furrows of black, broken, prairie sod; the trades man, the storekeeper heard the clank of the farmer's hard silver dollars in his till; the adventurer smelled the color of gold washed down from the beckoning hills. Even the Eastern industrialist was caught up in the frontier frenzy as he dreamed of the bountiful plenty pouring out of the Midlands. What are the attitudes that still express these frontier values? First of all, the presence of an abundant and seemingly inexhaustible supply of natural resources with its tremendous "industrial potential" produced In the people an easy optimism. Each man had faith that all problems could be solved. This faith produced a facile op timism that is often expressed by the saying, "The impos sible we will do tomorrow." Gradually, the realization that, natural resources were no longer abundant nor inexhausti ble has sobered the people. They now suspect that they must cultivate and mine the inexhaustible energies of man himself. This takes care and thought; not brawn and op portunism. And mldwesterners know this subconsciously. The people of the Midlands value independence. They believe that a man is free under the law; that the individual should be left to himself to work out his own peculiar des tiny so long as his acts do not compromise the acts of others. It now dawns on the midwesterner that his in dividual acts increasingly do collide with the acts of oth ers. The people of the Midlands have a hearty "respect for ingenuity." Life on the frontier presented the pioneer with problems and emergencies that had to be faced and solved with whatever was at hand. Oftentimes, the solution was novel and unorthodox. This "bailing wire" approach to the solution of problems deepened the midwesterner's re liance on the "practical" and tended to make him con temptuous of the "educated guess" of the expert. As the midwest farm became mechanized and as farming became "big business" this attitude toward the expert has softened -somewhat. The people of the Midlands value initiative. Believing that the great Heartland of America held unlimited oppor (unities, mldwesterners believed that the limits of success were largely unbounded and could be reached by any men with enough "get up and go." Recent developments in fed eral farm programs has produced a disquiet in the mid western farmer. Basically, he feels embarassed by being paid for "doing nothing." v Pi "J I an understanding of both These contradictions in values and attitudes exhibited by the people of the Midlands are shared to some extent by Nebraskans. But he is not complacent; his environment the great, turbulent plains does not allow him such a luxury. A long-continuing study of the extent of social co hesiveness of the people in Nebraska towns tends to under line the Nebraskan's dilemma and the contradictions in herent 'in his attitudes. The research tends to show that Easterners who settled in the wholly arid portions of the West (Wyoming, for example) soon shed their Eastern ways and adapted to the new environment. Out of this in teraction of people with western climate grew up a "West ern" culture. Easterners who settled in the midwest east of the Missouri River, found the climate relatively humid and stable. They found little need to change their Eastern values or habits of life. But Eastern ers settling in Nebraska soon found that their Eastern ways were not wholly suited to the changeable Nebraska climate, nor was the set of values of the region farther, west whoHy'satisfactory. Nebraskans, seemingly, have not' yet found a happy compromise between social living and their environment. They feel they are a part of the Mid lands, yet they are apart. Industrialization and urbanization has touched Nebras kans. The mechanization on the farms has displaced rural folk. Families have moved to the cities and towns. As a result, most of the people are concentrated in the eastern half of the state the highest population density, being in the metropolitan area of Omaha. In some respects Nebras ka appears to be divided into two main parts Omaha and the rest of the state. Out-state folks consider Omaha a nec essary place, but view it with distrust. To many rural folk it represents all those tendencies toward concentration of political power and "conspicuous consumption" which they have resisted for so long. This distrust, apparently, is not directed at Lincoln to the same degree. The capitol city seems to be more of a cross-section of rural Nebraska than Omaha. While Omaha tends to be Industrial, unionized, Democratic, urban, and polyglot, Lincoln and Nebraska is open shop, Republican, rural and homogeneous. As a rule, the Nebraskan still views the specialist and the expert askance, expecially in the areas of government, education, and social life. As far, as his family is con cerned, the Nebraskan has long since discarded his "bail ing wire" approach to the solution of problems. He now seeks advice for business problems from a CP. A.; he has a lawyer help him with his income tax return; he turns to a medical specialist if his family's health is threatened. But he still feels, somehow, that his government and his school can be best directed by amateur "folks at home." As a result, the Nebraskan has often been called "anti intellectual." This self government in township and county, State and federal functionaries have taken over health, law enforcement, and roads. The last sizabele and significant institution left under his control is his local school. Sub consciously, he recognizes the essential egalitarian nature of the compulsory attendance law, and with it he has been able to maintain through his local school some sem blance of democratic social life in the community. Such curricula as business education vocational agriculture, and vocational home economics served local purposes quite well in the past. This terminal training at the high school level was also quite adequate at a time when any high school diploma was the minimum requirement for job placement. However, the local community can no longer absorb all of its high school graduates. More and more of them go to college to compete for specialized jobs all over the world. This fatal leeching of the most talented youth from the ' soil of the state rightly disturbs the Nebraskan. The people of the state cannot long maintain vigorous communities in the face of such a blood-letting. On the other hand the Ne braskan is determined to try his level best to see that bureaucrat?'; forces shall not drain his society of its funda mental egalitarian nature. More than that, the Nebraskan is impatient of an intellectualism that parades under the banner of democracy while fostering the dominance and . control of society by an intellectual elite. Saturday night used to be "trading" night for . farmers. Tonight those farmers are at home with their attention riveted on Matt Dillon. Often called a latter-day "morality play," Gunsmoke projects those pioneer values and attributes that still, hold a fascination for the Nebras kan. He yearns to be the brawny man of action, tall in the saddle and unafraid of lurking danger. He envies the men of brawn and honors the craftsman who produces things, Yet the Nebraskan knows and accepts the fact new fron- tiers are being blazed by men at desks and in laboratories -whose marvelous productive work may have nothing to do with the fabrication of things. Colonel Glenn was alone rid ing in a bucking nose cone through space, but he was put " there and brought down through the combined devotion of thousands of highly skilled specialists. In a basic sense Matt . Dillon and Colonel Glenn are far apart in time, but each in hit way is appreciated and understood by Nebraskans. i V '.(.1.1'. ; t;(.;..KW M. a, a ; - -.