The Charlotte News

Friday, November 12, 1937


Site Ed. Note: Speaking of Alphonse and Gaston in Cloud Cuckoo Town, perhaps this Time piece sums not only the age of which it speaks, that of the sunset of the Gothic stage hearkening the curtain spread for the Renaissance, the latter 14th through early 15th century, ravaged by war, finding sanctuary in art, it, as the Cash editorial below preceding it by 25 years, speaks as well to our age—especially after the Big Guns of August, 1945.

And, we conclude, by that which we read of the Fayetteville Observer of this date from 1862, that to kill one’s brother, one must be either stone cold sober by means of the percolator or moderately drunk by means of the distillery—take your pick, choose your weapons.

Ourselves, from the sound of things, we think we’d rather take up the hunt in Waynesville.

Hugh Johnson this date also had an editorial on the perilously dilapidated state of the merchant marine, as Joseph Kennedy had testified before Congress, resulting from the uniform buildup thereof during and shortly after World War I, then left to languish with little further shipbuilding afterward to 1937, thus in need of government stimulus to private capital to invest in new ships. The incentive, unfortunately, would come with a vengeance, and not by choice, in a little over four years. Had industry and Congress listened then to Mr. Kennedy, had the Congress been willing to act sooner with respect to providing aid to Spain, Ethiopia, perhaps there never would have been a grab in the Sudetenland necessitating the appeasement at Munich ten months hence.

But, no one then could predict that Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini and the warlords of Japan were such grasping megalomaniacs? That the Nazis would slaughter six million Jews in concentration camps? That this collective triumvirate were not instead just good old boys like some of our Southern good old boys who ran the mills, who maybe allowed, maybe encouraged for the sake of setting example, their rowdy millhands to blow off a little frustration now and again with their uneducated and putrefying lot in the corn by casting to the tree the rope? Just a little misunderstood, but necessary evils to provide a bulwark to the Reds of the distant prairie lands?

Until, finally, frustrated with the whole thing, ready to risk ending the whole thing, setting fire to the whole thing, blowing the atmosphere to kingdom come, if necessary to show that we mean business, we split the atom and released more energy in one big goddamned bang than man before ever dreamed as he sat huddled in his caves, close warmed in his masses, as fire and brimstone drifted to the heavens on a cool fall evening, with war stories passed about in grunts and groans of pain and churlish discontent, while the young, the women, and too old to fight told the stories of the day’s deeds, in victory and defeat, in bravery and death, in charcoal and rose petals tinting the blood coagulated permanently to the walls.

Fire in the Clouds

The pattern set up by the London Naval Treaty Conference and the Spanish Non-Intervention Committee of London seems to be on its way to becoming the standard pattern for diplomatic conferences in our time. For now the Nine-Power Conference in Brussels is obviously going the same way.

Our favorite figure for the whole performance is that of a general fire alarm in Cloud Cuckoo Town. The two companies come dashing out from all quarters, sirens shrieking, bells ringing, and exhausts snorting. Having roared up to the scene, the boys immediately fall to arguing as to who shall unreel the hose, who shall attach the nozzles, who shall turn the plug valves, who shall set the engines going, who shall raise the ladders to rescue the women and children, if axes are necessary and if so who shall use them, and above all, perhaps, as to whether or not the hoses can carry enough water to put out the blamed conflagration in any case. Arguing not bitterly, you understand, not in any spirit of egotistic competition, but publicly, gravely, as to who shall have the Manor. After you, my dear Alphonse! Mate son, my old Gaston, after you, I insist!

And meantime the quarter where the fire started is already burned down, two others are falling into ruins, and the blaze threatens to spread to all of Cloud-Cuckoodom.

Study in Accommodation

An instructive little parallel, it seems to us, is that offered by the case of tax collections in the City of Charlotte and the County of Mecklenburg. City valuations run to around $105,000,000, and county valuations, which take in the city, total up to about $140,000,000. The City tax rate has been averaging about twice that of the County, for 1936-1937 using $1.43 as compared with $3.84.

The total sum the County has to collect annually, then, has been a little more than half that which the City has had to collect. But when it comes to collecting--well, the County has almost as much uncollected taxes on its books as the City. In a recent weekly report, for instance, the figures stood:

County.……… 567,659.64

From the standpoint of running a government, there can be, we believe, no quibbling over the statement that it is better to have taxes in the bank than on the books. From the standpoint of consideration for the delinquent taxpayers, there may be some room for argument. But we are inclined ourselves to the view that in not letting people get too far behind, the City is saving itself and them future trouble.

License to Bootleg

Over in Tennessee, which is supposed to be bone-dry, Governor Gordon Browning has drafted a bill to put an annual tax of $500 on "the business of selling, distributing or dealing in whisky or other intoxicating or alcoholic beverages." Proof of engaging in such business will be the possession of a Federal liquor license, of which there are 1,575 in Tennessee!

A greater reductio ad absurdum of the whole business of prohibition we think we have never seen during our years of looking out for such reductios. First, the Federal Government, which is directed by the Constitution to help enforce prohibition in Tennessee, does [indiscernible words] in that direction by licensing 1,575 people to sell liquor in the state! And then Tennessee itself proposes to license more persons, all criminals under state laws, to entry on their trade!.

The Governor, indeed, protests that it's no license tax he proposes, but we leave it to the lawyers in our audience if it hasn't all the earmarks of such a tax. And as for its being punitive, as the Governor suggests--does anybody really believe that any of the 1, 575 bootleggers, all of them big shots by the token that they hold a Federal license, are going out of business rather than pay the $500? Of course there are no such innocents among us--not even in Tennessee--not even among the drys.

Strangely Light

Four prominent Waynesville men pleaded nolo contendere--a round-about way of pleading guilty--in Federal Court in Asheville Wednesday to charges of misappropriating materials belonging to the WPA, which relief agency they had served as officials. They drew fines ranging from $250 up to $1,000, three of them ordered to make restitution or "partial restitution" to the WPA, and one of them was ordered to resign from the Waynesville town council.

The sentences puzzle us. These men, in a position of trust, apparently breached that trust to commit a crime which, in non-legal language, goes by a much less polite name than "misappropriation." And our experience has taught us to expect that men guilty of that sort of thing shall come in for more than a light fine and "partial restitution."

What is the explanation? We don't know, and so refrain from being dogmatic. Nevertheless, we cannot avoid observing that the prominence of the defendants may have had something to do with it--that and the probability that, being WPA officials, they were well-connected politically.

The Test

The American Legion staged a celebration in the Raleigh schools yesterday, with flags and brass bands. But there were no prayers, for the Ministers' Association of the city had unanimously refused to have anything to do with a celebration which they denounced as encouraging the war spirit in the young.

We respect these parsons. Obviously, it is not easy to reconcile the faith they preach with the war spirit, and obviously it isn't the best way to discourage the war spirit in the young to show them the veterans of old wars marching in bright uniforms to the tune of high-hearted music. Nevertheless, cynicism suggests a question. Are the Raleigh parsons prepared to follow through? Having taken up their stand against the war spirit, what are they going to do in case we land in another war, and they find their faith in conflict with their national sentiments? What will they do when the war spirit again sweeps the nation, when the bands bray out and the flags wave and the crowd roars against all dissenters?

From the record of the last war, they may be confidently promised that they'll have to go to jail. Can they stand being named traitor and scorned by all their neighbors? If they can keep their heads while all about them are losing theirs, they'll be different from clergymen of all war periods, no matter which side they were rooting for, the right or the right.

The Case of Brazil

The obvious conclusion to jump to in regard to the coup d'etat in Brazil yesterday is that Brazil has gone Fascist after the European fashion with a bang. For it was only Monday that Virginio Gayda, chief press agent for Mussolini, let loose a blast in which he promised that other nations were preparing to join the Fascist bloc, and specifically mentioned Brazil. More than that, our Dorothy Thompson had an article in The News on the very day of the coup in which she took account of Gayda's speech, pointed out that the Fascintern was following the same policy of attempting to take over other nations which the Comintern has always followed, and reported that "actually the Fascist International... has already made serious headway in Brazil..."

But, on the other hand, the Associated Press correspondent at Buenos Aires informs us that South American opinion generally refuses to see a European Fascist overturn in the case, but insists that the coup is strictly in the South American tradition. And certainly revolutions and dictatorships are nothing new in South America. As the AP points out, the most complete totalitarian regime ever heard of in history was that of Gaspar Thomas Rodriguez de Francia in Paraguay from 1813 to 1845. And for that matter, old Simon Bolivar, the founder of all the democratic regimes in South America, was in his acts quite often indistinguishable from a dictator.

Maybe, in view of these conflicts in evidence, we'd better wait for more light before deciding if the overthrow in Brazil is on the European or South American model.

Site Ed. Note: For the February, 1937 series on Charlotte’s slums of which the editorial by Graham Doar of this date speaks, go here.

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