On a Great Humanitarian

We all know how the President responded to the Great Depression, right? It’s been thoroughly documented in the history books and in governmental archives. But, before we look at that in a little more detail, let’s remember the man himself.

The President was known for his business knowledge. He’d been in government for some time, and his reputation was unimpeachable. He’d served two previous administrations in the cabinet as a secretary. Before that, during World War 1, the President had led efforts to bring support to the people of Belgium as they suffered extreme food shortages from the effects of much of the war being fought on their territory–and this was even before the United States entered the conflict. His name became synonymous with humanitarian efforts when then-President Woodrow Wilson asked him to lead American efforts at bringing supplies to Europe to help rebuild after the devastation of the Great War. Thus, the man who worked to deal with the Great Depression seemed the perfect man for the job because he knew how to deal with crises.

So, what did the President do to try to overcome the effects of having almost 25% unemployment, the banking system in tatters, Wall Street and the entire business community rattled, and people’s lives on the edge? Well, we have to remember that, at that time, no administration had intervened in the economy before. It’s difficult to believe, but it is so. The American tradition was that business and government were separate, and, while elected officials could affect the economy with laws and guidelines, actually and actively working to stimulate the economy had not been tried before. And when the President did it to combat the economic downturn, many people thought it was tantamount to treason or communism.

No, he knew that to do nothing would be the worst thing for the country. He promised and delivered, in his words, “the most gigantic program of economic defense and [economic] counterattack ever evolved in the history of the Republic.” And so it was. He put the government to work on the economy like no other Chief Executive before him. Public works programs, support for the failing banks, low-interest loans to corporations, and he ordered companies to not lay off people (which was among the first things companies did when hard times hit) knowing that incomes were still needed. In short, he did all he could to make the situation better. What else would you expect from a great humanitarian? He knew what people were going through.

And he tried to calm people’s fears about the economy as well. He called in reporters to show how he continued his daily routines as if to say, “look, all is well. It’s going to be ok.” He even tried to allay fears by coining the term “Depression” to indicate that, like people at times, even the economy could become depressed, and that bright days were ahead.

Sadly, as we know, it didn’t work. His name became synonymous not with humanitarianism but, rather, with the Great Depression itself.

But you can’t say Herbert Hoover didn’t try.

On Two Nerds

The popularity of nerd-chic can be easily seen in the numbers of views drawn to TV’s Big Bang Theory. Nerds are, ironically, now cool. That wasn’t always the case. High school can be incredibly rough, but it can be especially tortuous for those kids that get labeled “un-cool.” Bullies—usually the cool kids—picked on those they saw as weak and nerdy. Still do, sadly, and some kids in that powerless position today, when they find themselves bullied, they strike back in anger and violence.

Take Jerry. Typical high school nerd back in the day. Not athletic. Wore glasses. Bookish. Nebbish. And Jewish. Kept to himself. It’s almost never cool (unless it’s the cause de jour) to be conversant in politics in high school, but Jerry had an understanding of American politics that most adults envied. That made him even more of an odd-ball among his peers. He felt all alone and helpless as he made his way to class through the halls of his high school in Cleveland, Ohio.

Then, one day, Jerry ran into a kid who’d moved to Cleveland from Canada: Joe. Joe was much like Jerry, even down to his Jewish ancestry. But something about these two shy kids coming together and becoming friends made each of them feel empowered. Joe later said it was like the right chemicals coming together to make something new, something better than they were individually. The two chums talked often about the people in their lives who inspired them, the men and women they admired, those people in society they looked up to and wished they could be like. They felt saddened that they lived in a world that seemed to be losing its freedom as men such as Mussolini and Hitler and Stalin bullied smaller, weaker nations much as the bullies in school tortured them.

For Jerry and Joe, they both really admired President Franklin D. Roosevelt. They liked how he managed to deal with his crippling polio and still become successful and powerful. They felt a kinship with FDR’s desire to speak for the underdog, to fight for what was right and good and true. Another hero of theirs was the swashbuckling film star, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. They wanted to be the guy who swooped in and saved the day (and got the girl in the end) as did all the characters Fairbanks played in the films.

Over many days and nights, Jerry and Joe talked about what they could do to answer the bullies. So, the nerdy pair decided to answer their bullies with creativity. You see, Jerry Siegel was the writer of the pair, and Joe Shuster was the artist. They decided to create a hybrid of their two heroes, FDR and Douglas Fairbanks.

The character they created and wrote about really is a combination of those two men, and he is known today around the world as a seeker of truth and justice: