Posted Tuesday night, March 20, 2018.
“Walworth County [Wisconsin] deputies armed with billy clubs ride atop milk trucks to make sure vehicles can get past pickets near the Walworth-Waukesha county line on Highway 14.” The Wisconsin Milk Wars of 1933 spread to Chicago and points beyond, including Minneapolis where it was witnessed by a college student named Norman Borlaug who would mark that day as the beginning of his career as an environmental scientist dedicated to solving the problem of world hunger through technological innovation. Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Norman Borlaug, one of the two environmental scientists at the center of Charles C. Mann’s “The Wizard and the Prophet”---Borlaug is the Wizard of the title, the one who saw technology as the answer to the problems of overpopulation and environmental degradation---was a student at the University of Minnesota in 1933, ostensibly to major in forestry, but harboring as his main ambition playing second base for the Chicago Cubs. One day he accidentally walked into the middle of the Minneapolis Milk Riot. What he saw set him on the path to devoting his life’s work to ending world hunger. Conservatives like to point out that the New Deal didn’t end the Depression. They’re right. It did something greater. It saved the country from a future filled with scenes like this:
Fighting over milk erupted in Chicago in mid-September 1933, Scattered violence occurred as far away as Minneapolis, where it was witnessed by nineteen-year-old Norman Borlaug. Walking through a zone of shuttered factories, he saw a throng of gaunt, ragged people encircling a line of milk trucks, blocking their progress. The trucks were guarded by men toting baseball bats. Protesters were berating them. Not all of the shouting men were farmers, Borlaug realized. Some of the were just hungry---famished men, women, and children, almost maddened by want. “Suddenly a cameraman tried to get up [on a car] to get a better picture with his tripod and his foot went through the canvas top on the car and then all hell broke out,” he remembered. The guards “beat him up and busted his camera, and that triggered it.”
As if the violence were a signal, the guards rushed the protesters, bringing their clubs down in a coordinated attack. Cries of pain rose as bloodied men collapsed. Others grabbed at milk canisters in the trucks, pulling them to the ground, splashing milk on the cobblestones. Borlaug was terrified. Abruptly the trucks lurched forward, into the melee; people fell back shouting, a panicky shuffle that pinned Borlaug against a wall. He couldn’t see but he could hear the truck engines heaving as they drover through the gathering. The wailing was like nothing he had ever heard. When the crush eased, he ran shaking through the fight to his boardinghouse. The wounded were lying untended on the ground.
Something must be done, he thought. Those famished people were ready to tear apart the world, and who could blame them? Here began, or so he said afterward, the work that would make him the original Wizard. Everything commenced with the terrible fathomless hunger he saw explode in the street.
---from “The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow's World ” by Charles C. Mann.