Plus ça change

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Many estate employees didn’t know the Americans were pulling out until the day they departed.

Not Afghanistan in 2021, but the failure of Fordlandia, Henry Ford’s attempt to create a planned community in Brazil, as described in Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America 1927.

Other topics in the book which audiences on either side of the Atlantic might find familiar include poor economic stewardship (the banking decision that would set off the Great Depression), odd mores and moral panics (‘in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, a local law made it an offence for dancing partners to gaze into each other’s eyes’), terrorism (anarchist bombers and the Red Scare) and related suspicion of migrant communities (apparently the Twenties were a rough time for Italians in America as well as blacks and Jews), a concern with what the climate was doing (the oddest of that year’s odd weather being a devastating flood of the Mississippi), grand social projects with unforeseen consequences (Prohibition was ‘easily the most extreme, ill-judged, costly and ignored experiment in social engineering ever conducted by an otherwise rational nation’) and dubious uses of science (the ‘prominent and learned’ ‘coalition of academics and scientists’ behind eugenics).

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