Took the kids to see the Bay Model in Sausalito, a huge scale-model of the hydrological systems around San Francisco Bay, built a long while back by the Army Corps of Engineers. They are refurbishing it so it was empty of water, which somewhat diminished the experience. It's also a bit fusty around the edges since it is no longer needed for its original purposes, having been replaced by computer models. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is an incredibly important and incredibly fragile piece of California's infrastructure (a good part of it is under sea level and protected by old, fragile levees, likely to collapse soon even without taking climate change into account). The Bay Model doesn't much go into the politics of water in California, although anyone who's seen Chinatown (or better, read Cadillac Desert) knows how much the two are linked.
But this post isn't about water, it's about a side-exhibit there on the Marin shipyards which used to be on the site where the model is located, which were thrown together in WWII and began churning out Liberty Ships at a rapid rate (one of the films shows that as one ship was being launched, they were already lowering part of the keel for the next one into the construction bay). People were drawn into the area from all parts of the country and all walks of life, with housewives being trained as welders overnight, black sharecroppers pouring in from the South. It was an incredible coordinated effort. It took a mere three months from deciding where to site the shipyard to starting lay steel in. Hard to imagine today.
I couldn't help contrasting the spirit that animated this effort with the current deadly stagnation in Washington, where even raising an arbitrary numerical limit seems to be impossible, let alone actually doing something. There is not even a hint of a shared national spirit, some grand project that could get people working together on the vast scale seen during the war. The calls to mobilize seem to fall on deaf ears.
Of course the war efforts were unencumbered by environmental constraints or much respect for individual rights. And while national greatness sounds a lot better than national stagnation, it seems as if it's usually a byproduct of war, the most destructive and wasteful thing in the world. Greatness may not be worth it.