Saturday, April 03, 2010

History Rhymes, Again

"History never repeats, but it often rhymes."
-- Mark Twain (attr.)

Scholars can't really tell you where or when the witticism so commonly attributed to Mark Twain was uttered, but it's just the sort of thing which that biting skeptic of human nature might have said. In any event, he surely would have added a sarcastic rhyme this week after news of the latest coal mine disasters in China.

Five times this week -- five! -- scores of Asian miners have been killed by flooding, gas explosions, or sudden collapse of mine shafts. The worst appears to be in Shanxi Province where 153 workers have been trapped for over a week. Hopes were raised yesterday when mysterious "tapping" noises were heard coming from the mine Thursday, NPR reports.

Ironically, this same week at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, the centennial commemoration of the famous "Cherry Mine" disaster in Illinois was just winding up. Above ground a hundred years ago, mysterious tapping noises were keeping hopes alive in north-central Illinois, too.

The Cherry Mine disaster has historical importance beyond the grim numbers of the dead and surviving widows, mothers, and siblings left bereft and penniless. Subsequent investigations established that company executives were deliberately and repeatedly violating what few laws there were protecting worker safety and preventing under-age employment.

Those findings led to a number of progressive worker safety laws including, one year later, creation of the U.S. Bureau of Mines and, among the states, one of the first worker compensation statutes. A fascinating, and historically accurate, two-part diary on Daily Kos ["How Regulation Came to Be"] explains the connection in detail.

All of which provides a useful reminder, in today's era of Tea Party and neo-Republican attacks on "government" in general, of just what life was like before progressive ideas became the law of the land.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this! Like someone said, "Those who don't remember history are condemned to repeat it."