Once in a while, if a date rings a bell to me, I’ll look it up on Wiki and see what might have happened. Today, I discovered that this is the hundredth anniversary of the institution of Prohibition in the United States.
My God, what a dumb policy that was. Short of mis-guided armed conflicts, it might have been the worst policy decision in the 20th Century. The temperance movement had been gaining ground for thirty years on a state level but it went nation-wide a century ago today.
Think of this. No-one could legally drink a martini when they saw Louis Armstrong in his prime. The ’27 Yankees, the greatest team of all time, could not legally hoist a beer after winning the World Series. Charlie Chaplin could not legally have a drink after the release of his greatest films. Women, who finally gained the right to vote, were unable to share a bottle of Champagne with smiles on their faces as they celebrated their hard-fought victory. Leg-less World War One Veterans could not legally drink a drink while they were listening to the baseball game, or listening to Jazz, or celebrating their wives’ hard-fought victory.
It spawned the greatest criminal era in American history. It made Al Capone an historical figure. The greatest and most notorious gangster of all time. The Canadian Bronfmans would ship whiskey to St. Pierre and Miquelon and it would sail to New York under the cover of darkness. It made them the largest liquor distributor in the world for a time. Without Prohibition, perhaps the Montreal Expos would never have existed, the Bronfmans being the owners. Perhaps Babe Ruth would have been fatter and the 60 home run record would have never been revered.
Like the proverbial dove, flapping its wings to cause a tidal wave, each political decision, large and small, resonates in ways we do not foresee or understand until the history is written. Every vote counts, every law counts, every decision counts.
I don’t know what it was like to live in 1920. But I most assuredly know that my twenty-year old grandfather, who fought in the trenches, and lost his friends, sure deserved the opportunity to drink a cold beer a few years later. Had he traveled to New York to see a Yankees game and listen to Louis Armstrong.
That’s what happened a hundred years ago today.