The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current, May 16, 1962, Page Page 3, Image 3

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    The Daily, Nebraskan
. Is This The Basis For The State's 'Timidity
Wednesday, May 16, 1962
(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.)
Dear Bob:
You have asked me to set down some thoughts on Ne
braska and its people. Here they are for what they are
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
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.
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
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.
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