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LGM Film Club, Part 131: The Columbia: America’s Greatest Power Stream

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I mentioned Richard White’s The Organic Machine in an earlier post today, which is the best book I’ve ever read on the Columbia River, and a few days ago, I wrote about the battle to tear down the four Snake River dams that serve little purpose other than creating an inland port at Lewiston, one of the most pointless projects in American history. So it seems time to include this really quite amazing piece of propaganda from 1949, The Columbia: America‚Äôs Greatest Power Stream. Featuring the great songs of Woody Guthrie, there’s just a lot to break down here. There’s the overwhelmingly developmentalist ideology of the time, something that existed on both the left and the right, just with different emphasis on private or public ownership. There’s the complete lack of any environmentalist language; it just didn’t exist.

There also the interpretation of the nation that comes straight out of Frederick Jackson Turner, which was just an overwhelming intellectual project of the time, very much including on the left and perhaps even more so among liberals. There’s a reason after all that Arthur Schlesinger didn’t mention Indian Removal in The Age of Jackson. It’s not just that Schlesinger was an apologist for Jackson or a racist, though those two things are true enough. It’s that the entire New Deal liberal intellectual project simply didn’t have room for Native people in it. They were just irrelevant relics, as we see in this film as well, where there’s a brief picture of fishing at Celilo Falls before The Dalles Dam destroyed it, but that’s it. The new Northwest? There’s no room for Indians in it at all.

Anyway, this is about as good as this kind of film gets, at least from a teaching perspective and certainly from a Woody Guthrie perspective.

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