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Should the CCC be revived?

Walsh County Record (Grafton) Editor W. Todd Morgan reminded us last week that June observed the 80th anniversary of the closing of the Civilian Conservation Corps, an organization of young men 18-26 that did scores of public projects in North Dakota. And what the CCC didn’t do, the Works Progress Administration did.

While the CCC consisted of young men in a semi-military setting, commanded in barracks by regular military officers, the Works Progress Administration used older men that worked out of their homes on local projects.

The CCC boys were paid $30 a month of which $25 was sent home to help their families. They were furnished uniforms, food, room, medical care and schooling.

CCC Built Parks

The CCC built the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the International Peace Garden, Lake Metigoshe State Park and the Arvilla State Park. A CCC camp made up of World War I veterans did extensive work in Lindenwold, Edgewood and Oak Grove Parks in Fargo. The CCC did so many tree plantings that they were called “Roosevelt’s Tree Army.”

President Roosevelt took over the presidency in March of 1933 and by June 235,000 men were in the Civilian Conservation Corps. It was a lesson in policymaking.

Today, approval of the CCC would take years of debate in Congress. When faced with a crisis, the government could move impressively swift but it takes a common disaster to get our form of government to work.

Preventing Good

In one of the Federalist Papers, Alexander noted that we’ve put so many checks and balances in our republic so it couldn’t do anything bad but it also meant that the same checks and balances would prevent a lot of good from happening.

According to the State Historical Society: “the goal was to raise the quality of young men through work and discipline and to prevent the young men from becoming a burden to their parents or becoming criminals.” I’m not so sure the CCC did all of that but it did keep young men off of the streets.

In his comments, Morgan quoted a letter by Tom Emery, a historical researcher who alleged that the CCC peaked at 505,782 in 1935 and that 3,500,000 served in 4,500 camps during the life of the program.

I had two older brothers who served in the CCC. One learned construction techniques and became an Army engineer at Anzio during World War II. My other brother became a cook at the CCC camp and that became his life’s career.

Does CCC Have a Place?

Looking back at something that worked, the question arises: Is there room for something like the CCC in society today?

With so many jobs begging on the market today, it seems that there isn’t room for a CCC because everyone who is eligible is working.

Not so. The policymakers in various states fret over the number of unemployed being supported by government disability checks and numerous federal programs. They talk about mandating that every able-bodied person should work.

Even in the current job market, there are still unemployed people beating the system. In truth, they ought to be working. All we need do is pair them up with jobs. There are many public projects in North Dakota that will never been funded.

We would need to check the demographics and compile the number of candidates for a program like the CCC. Conscripting the unemployed to work on unfunded jobs would be an obvious boon in so many ways they don’t need listing.

They say that history repeats itself because no one was listening the first time. Maybe the CCC history is saying something.

Lloyd Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota and former political science professor at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.

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