The Charlotte News

Sunday, June 16, 1939


Site Ed. Note: With regard to "Machine", see a brief discussion of the Rust Brothers and their machine in The Mind of the South, Book III, Chapter III, pp. 410-411, of which this article was probably an immediate precursor. In fact, Cash mentions in the text of the book that the brothers had just announced, as he wrote it, the introduction of the machine into production, indicating precisely where Cash was on the manuscript in mid-June, 1940, eighteen pages, several additional minor revisions, and forty days from completion. This piece, however, as well as a few earlier book reviews and a small number of editorial columns represent the only News contributions of Cash which had anything to do directly with the book. His passion had long since turned from the book, in fact, to following the daily events of the War.

In 1969 or thereabouts, as we learned in the summer of 2001 while perusing papers at the University of North Carolina Southern Historical Collection, Joseph Morrison started to prepare a never completed or published article about Cash. He called it, appropriately for our times in later 2001 and now especially in 2002, "A Pretty Good Afghanistanism". He performed laborious research into the origins of the term, which loosely means that whenever times at home turn tough, whenever things were going so badly that the journalist felt incompetent or impotent to deal with them directly, or whenever domestic news becomes just plain boring, journalists, in an avoidance game of at least partial self-delusion, resort to commenting upon news from Afghanistan. (He eventually traced the origins to some midwestern newspaperman in about 1948, but that was in some dispute among others claiming to have been the originator at a later time in the mid-50's, during one of the many continuing tumults in that country.) In any event, as Morrison sought to relate the term to Cash's work, especially that in 1939-1941, he suggested that Cash, morbid over the trends in the still recalcitrant South and feeling unable to have much of an effect on them, performed an "Afghantanism" and turned his attention instead deliberately and by indirection to the same traits which he saw exhibited in native Germans, the worst traits of all, those of sheer barbarism, similar to the Klan in the South, being exhibited by the Nazis. In that way, conceived Morrison, Cash was able to accomplish his goal of discussing the harder traits of Southerners without the impolitick directness which any good Southerner knows could be dangerous, then or even now, in some parts. Just why the article lay unfinished and was never published is unclear. Professor Morrison died of a heart attack in 1970 at age 52 and left no hint in his papers. While there probably is some degree of truth in this assessment, the broader truth of the matter probably is not to be summed up in this phrase, but rather in the notion that first, Cash said his piece in the book exhaustively and felt no need to extend it to the newspaper, and second, that he could not properly get the points across freely and at length which he wanted to express in that limited daily forum. So he simply left it to the more approriate forums where he was not limited to 500 words or so, and where it was more likely that he would have a studied audience for his brief, first The American Mercury, then the book. But in so saying that, we may be practicing a form of Afghanistanism so we leave it to the reader to decide. Regardless, let us hope that the whole of the United States is not, though we fear it probably is, doing just that these days--a pretty bad one though.

In fact, about the most sensible voice in the whole horrible mess we have heard so far--though we don't necessarily subscribe to all of it--is that of Norman Mailer, who spoke in mid-October, 2001, ironically enough from Queens College in Charlotte, where Cash himself spoke on The Mind of the South in spring, 1941. If you should ever catch it on C-Span or get a transcript of it, we recommend it. But we go on...

Silly Season

Which Doesn't Seem As Funny As It Used To

At Asheville, N.C., an applicant for a Civil Service job defined embezzlement as trying to get away with something wrong. And larceny as working. Which may not have been so silly as it sounded. Embezzlement is sometimes a polite name for the crimes of people who get away with thieving. And the way some people work is undoubtedly close kin to larceny.

At Charlotte, N.C., the postmaster announced that business was so good he was going to have to raise the rent for post office boxes.

At Cleveland, Ohio, the baseball team petitioned the owners to remove their manager. He embarrassed them with his monkeyshines in front of other clubs, they explained.

In Berlin, Germany, Adolf Hitler explained gravely to an American reporter that he was only a Boy Scout and that, far from trying to destroy the British Empire, he was trying to save it. The reporter did not say what revived him.

At Concord, N.C., the Register of Deeds was swamped with telephone calls from prospective brides and bridegrooms in a panic because of a rumor that, on account of the war, no more marriage licenses would be issued.

At Charlotte, N.C., the thermometer climbs up and up, broke out the top and kept on climbing, refused to be much subdued even by nightfall. And up here in the ivory tower we noted that for once the solid platinum air conditioning system was not working and that the tower no longer seems so high and remote. And, mopping our brows, thought that there was so much grief and terror in the world that even the silly season no longer seemed very funny--not very funny. And that somehow seemed unfair.

A Machine

Which Faces Dixie With A Number of Problems

The announcement by the Rust brothers, of Memphis, that they plan to put their cotton-picking machine on the market on a gigantic scale this Summer, with the expectation that it will do away with hand labor, raises again the terrifying question of what is to become of the sharecroppers and the army of occasional labor which largely depends on cotton picking.

The Rust brothers have a social conscience, and announce the establishment of a foundation, to which a large part of the expected profits will go, which will devote itself to the rehabilitation of those displaced by the machine. Trade schools and research to the end of finding a permanent and decent solution of the problem are to be a part of the program.

Nevertheless, it is impossible to believe that such an organization will be able to take care of the whole body of the displaced, which according to the various estimates will number anywhere from half a million to several million. It raises a gigantic unemployment problem for the future.

Perhaps, the war will help solve that for awhile. And that is the costliest part of all.

The end of the sharecropper system certainly would be no evil in itself. Cotton product which has never yielded great profits save for short periods--and in general has never, since the Civil War, really yielded profits large enough to pay a return on land farmed by the extensive rather than intensive methods, and at the same time provide an adequate standard of living for the large body of laborers called for. The system has resulted in the constant degradation of of a large section of Southern rural people, a degradation which at its extreme is naturally not very far from that of Erskine Caldwell's "Tobacco Road."

But, so far as the machine does not utterly displace these people, it will reduce them fully to the status of day agricultural laborers. Discount "The Grapes of Wrath" as you will, it will be difficult to defend that as a gain.

What is more terrifying than that is the question of what shall become of those who are fully displaced. The usual answer is to say that Southern industry must be enormously expanded, that they must be put to work in factories. But it is a question if Southern industry can be expanded so completely and so rapidly. And hunger won't wait.

Moreover, merely to say industry is not to say enough. If the sharecroppers and the rest can be got into factories which afford them a reasonably good standard of living, well and good. In many ways, they will undoubtedly be better off. But it is common knowledge that some of the schemes for expansion of Southern industry--as that in Mississippi--call for the building of factories on terms that threaten to carry-over sharecropper standards into towns. That raises the prospect of the creation of a genuine Southern proletariat. And the creation of a genuine proletariat is a tragedy not only for the class involved but for all classes as the whole recent history of Europe proves.

Finally, the mechanizing of Southern cotton farming promises to greatly extend the plantation system--the system of the division of the land into great units. The South has had too much of that already. The healthiest, happiest, and safest country is always the country in which the greater part of the population is settled on the soil, and in which the ownership of that soil is broken up into small units and very widely distributed. We are going against all the fundamentals of human experience when the land also becomes a factory.

These are problems we had better think about now in the hope of finding a workable solution. Or we shall presently have to look at their consequences, when solution has become impossible.


Which Might Leave Adolf's Face Red in the Future

Adolf Hitler is reported to be thinking of staging some new piece of dramatic and oratorical posturing at the Palace of Versailles, where the Treaty of 1919 was drawn, and over which the obscene Nazi symbol now floats.

But if he is well advised, he will not do it. His purpose would be, of course, to seek to impress the world as a sort of Galahad who at length had succeeded in righting intolerable wrongs--supposed to have been contained in the Treaty of Versailles. But it would fail dismally.

The world well knows that the so-called "wrongs" of Versailles were moderated at Locarno, and that what Adolf Hitler is about now has no relation to them. The world, including most of the Revisionists who once declaimed hotly against these "wrongs," is by now pretty generally and grimly convinced that there was only one thing really wrong with the Treaty of Versailles--that it insisted on treating Germany as belonging among the civilized nations instead of taking steps to see that she could not do again what she had just done.

Furthermore, the war is not won yet. Victory rides with the Nazi barbarian horde for the moment, indeed, and it may be destined to ride on with it to a swift end. Yet the forces that begin to move in the world are incalculably strong, as Adolf Hitler well knows. And many armies of the world have seemed to have victory in their grasp only alas to have it elude them. It was so with the German armies many times between 1914 and 1918.

And it would be most embarrassing to Adolf Hitler if, having pulled the sort of demonstration he is said to plan, he should himself have to come to Versailles again and stand, hat in hand as his predecessors once stood outside a railway carriage in the Forest of Compiegne, and sign a new Versailles Treaty which remedied the defects of the last one.


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