memory eternal, canal workers

by Andrea Elizabeth

The Panama Canal wont leave my mind so here goes. It’s 1904-1914 construction is seen as the symbol of the triumph of man over nature. The linked documentary shares journal entries of a Wyoming engineer, Jan van Hardeveld, who wondered if it was worth it.
Thousands and thousands of people died, thousands of unskilled laborers, mostly from Barbados, were hired under false pretenses, and the monumental task was much more difficult than expected requiring huge amounts of infrastructure, constantly revised creative engineering techniques, the damning of a major river to submerge miles and miles of jungle to elevate the ships, killing off miles and miles worth of mosquitoes by pouring oil into standing water, and who knows how much coal and trees were used to power it all. Still, it ended up being a very impressive engineering feat. But the audacity to pull it off is what makes me shake my head. The stubborn determination about the necessity of profits generated by quicker shipping, plus having bragging rights of the nation’s up and comingness, no matter how the lower class workers fared, gives much pause. It leaves me with mixed feelings for Teddy Roosevelt, my champion of national parks. But he wouldn’t have been who he bully was without that sort of determined bravado.

My mood since the documentary has changed from feeling they violated nature, to, let them play with their toys. I wish we shipped and consumed less, but I don’t want to become a preachy, point your finger at the naughties, old woman.

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