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February 05, 2008


There are a lot of sidewalks that are stamped WPA in one or another corner.

We had a neighbor whien I was in high school who'd done building decoration for the WPA or someone. He was an Italian immigrant in the 20s, who was trained at some point in plasterwork: sculpture and relief on walls and ceilings.

"I've read their typescript, but I still wonder what that project was all about."

This was an intentional program, part of intelligence gathering prior to the war. Winston Churchill and FDR recognized that war with Germany was inevitable, and unlike the current administration, felt that knowing something about their enemy might be useful if they intended to win. There is a good book on this, A Man Called Intrepid, in which a broad range of intelligence was collected from Germany, France and other European territories. Interestingly, Ian and Peter Fleming were involved in the British effort. Peter Fleming's One's Company was ostensibly a travel book, but it was hard to overlook his account of an anti-aircraft drill in Japanese occupied China without thinking forward to the 1940s.

The idea was to collect information about military developments, as well as all those other things that are much easier to learn during peace time as opposed to during war time. For example, railroad maps could be bought over the counter. No one had to risk his or her life to acquire them. It was still possible to tour a chemical plant as a curious civilian and learn that the hundred year old ceramic reaction pots were invaluable and hard to replace.

While the German's had good counterintelligence, understanding the German counterculture could provide possible contacts within the German underground, or at least possibly sympathetic agents within the Reich. Understanding German culture could provide insight into their mechanisms of production. I was just reading about one of the few successful anti-Nazi protests. Hitler wanted to get women out of the house and into the factory. In America, the women said, "What's the pay?" and "I'll take it." In Germany, they actually protested, and in such numbers that even the Nazis decided that it wasn't worth dealing with them in their usual manner.

I never underrate the WPA and the host of other works from FDR's era. A few years back we were sizing up solar power. We even hired a solar electricity consultant and he agreed that we had an excellent site. Unfortunately, FDR's dams are providing us with electricity at 1930s prices, so we just couldn't justify going solar.

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