As I look out on the remaining green grass and mostly bare branches of elm, oak and maple trees beyond my study window on a sunny 50 degree afternoon, it is difficult to imagine the Armistice Day Blizzard which began on this day 70 years ago. That winter tempest was a living part our history for those us who grew up in that era. The humongous storm covered an area from Kansas to Michigan and included Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. At its peak, winds gusted to 80 mph and snowdrifts in some areas were 20 feet high. Many people froze to death because they were unable to navigate their way to shelter. As I was growing up, along about this time of the year my parents retold their story, with hour-by-hour accounts of that remarkable conflagration, and survival, which had seemed doubtful at times. Snow drifts reached onto the roof of houses as the wind howled like an enraged, injured animal
In her recent book, All Facts Considered, NPR’s Kee Malesky retells the legend The Piasa, as told by the Illini Chief Ouatoga. The Native American story is of a huge bird with scales, horns like deer and a human-like face with fangs, that darkens the sky and brings thunder and lightening, devouring humans below in its path, hence the name Thunderbird, which is common among various native communities. Though there was no thunder and lightening associated with the Armistice Day Blizzard, rain and sleet during the early hours of the story preceded an enormously heavy, wet snowfall driven by strong winds, creating a deadly combination.
One wonders what stories will be told to children who had grown up in early days of the 21st century, about the devastating economic storm that overtook America. The Piasa that darkened the sky and descended upon and devoured middle class people that triggered the Great Recession of 2009, was outsourcing of American manufacturing jobs, the collapse of the housing market due to vast numbers of irresponsible home loans, and gambling by financial firms with stock holders’ money. Children will hear stories about draconian measures that followed, further undermining the middle class in America. People will look back upon an era in which the United States was still a land of opportunity for average Americans.
At least that is the way the economic storm has shaped up thus far. Whether a realistic, balanced, long term approach to undoing the damage that has been done by two unfunded wars, tax cuts for the wealthiest people, and uncontrolled and unfunded health care costs, remains to be seen. Cuts in spending alone will not solve the problem. The storm can only be brought under control with a balanced approach in which the wealthiest Americans, including corporations, carry an equitable share of the resource burden and discretionary military spending is stopped.