Drought and Despair: “these enemies of mankind”

Working on a book chapter about the genesis and importance of the Arizona v. California litigation over the Colorado River, I ran across this priceless little bit of business from 1944.

Harry Bashore, Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation, 1943-1945, courtesy USBR

Harry Bashore, Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation, 1943-1945, courtesy USBR

It is Harry Bashore, Comissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, testifying in Phoenix in July of that year, before the a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Irrigation and Reclamation, regarding the great work that lay ahead:

Since the time of Alexander the Great, men have complained that they could find no more lands to conquer. We of the Reclamation Service know that there are still lands of the great Southwest where our two weapons – water and power – can conquer drought and despair. And as these enemies of mankind are routed, we can build a greater Southwest with the help of those who will seek employment here in our public works.

See what he just did there?

Following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great! Reclamation rhetoric doesn’t get much better than that. But Bashore is doing so much more. The hearing is part of a clever little game going on between Reclamation and Arizona Sen. Carl Hayden, two arms of wester water’s “iron triangle“. Hayden had set this up the year before, with a measure pushed through a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Post-War Economic Planning and Policy. The need to transition the economy from war to peace, and to find jobs for returning warriors, was a political opportunity not to be missed. The rhetoric of victory over the Axis Powers became transformed to the rhetoric of victory of those twin enemies of all mankind, “drought and despair”.

The full testimony is here.


  1. Great stuff as always, thanks.


    BTW, the site redesign requires much more scrolling in order to read the same number of words.

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