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Front Page » February 5, 2002 » Opinion » Activists ignore prohibition's message
Published 4,641 days ago

Activists ignore prohibition's message


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By RICHARD SHAW
Staff reporter

Last Thursday evening, I spent some time going through old editions of the Sun Advocate from the early 1930s looking for information about roads and highways in the area.

As I perused the microfiche, I found something I had forgotten about: the vote in 1933 to repeal the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution or simply to repeal the prohibition of alcohol manufacturing, transport and consumption in the nation

According to the Sun Advocate at the time, Carbon County had overwhelmingly approved the repeal. And nationally, more than 73 percent of the voters had cast ballots for a "wet" country instead of a "dry" nation.

I had read about the repeal of prohibition years ago in history books, but had never actually seen newspaper accounts of the events at the time.

The next morning as I walked out of a local convenience store, two delivery drivers were pulling a pallet of beer into the establishment with a pallet jack.

"Super Bowl beer?" I asked as I held the door open for them.

The delivery drivers nodded in response.

As I walked back to my office, I had to think about how different things are today from what they were in the early '30s

If Americans wanted a drink back then, they would either have to make the beverage (prohibition allowed private citizens to make a very small amount of wine or beer for their own consumption) or go to an illegal source supplying alcohol.

After I went into the office, I sat down at my desk and noticed an article in the Salt Lake Tribune from earlier in the week staring at me from the papers piled on my desk. It concerned Utah anti-alcohol activists who indicate that they are going to "monitor" consumption and use at the Olympic celebrations.

It's funny how some subjects a person is exposed to seem to all weave together within the span of a few hours.

Only a few days before, I had seen on television how many foreign countries have set up "diplomatic houses" where they can serve liquor during the games. They bring the liquor in as part of the "diplomatic pouch" protection afforded to all countries under international law.

Although I haven't read or heard anything from the anti-alcohol groups about the situation, I am sure they are not happy.

In the years before prohibition, regulation of liquor was left to individual states. By the time Congress enacted the Volstead Act, more than half the states in the union were already dry and many others had strong controls governing liquor sales.

This had come about in reaction to the growing problem of alcohol abuse in the nation. However, it was also due to tensions between urban and rural areas.

In the early part of the 20th century, people from the country flocked to the cities to take better jobs in industry. Those who remained in the country saw this as a slap in the face and perceived city life to be overly materialistic and sinful. In addition, urban growth had put a great deal of pressure on rural economies. Political issues started to divide along the country/city boundaries and none were as clear cut as prohibition. In fact, historian Andrew Sinclair once declared that prohibition marked the triumph of the "corn belt over the conveyor belt."

Prohibition started Jan. 20, 1920, one year after the 18th Amendment was ratified, giving businesses and manufacturers dealing in alcoholic beverages time to sell wares and comply with the law. It also gave criminals time to set up a network to distribute and supply liquor unlawfully.

I can imagine how busy every bar and liquor store were the week before the ban. It would have been interesting to see.

Prohibition may have been brought about by a rift in the country, but it was carried to fruition by radicals who wanted people to live the way they thought they should live.

Had prohibition succeeded, it is not beyond comprehension that tobacco would have also been eventually banned. Pornography would have included any art form portraying the human body without clothes. Music could only be produced under certain parameters of community standards and most of us would probably not know how to dance because it would be illegal.

But prohibition didn't work. In only a few years, polls showed that most Americans wanted the 18th Amendment repealed.

U.S. citizens recognized the hypocrisy and saw the crime created by the ban. Often, the individuals responsible for enforcing the law would go to a speakeasy to relax after breaking up stills with sledge hammers and arresting bootleggers.

The "Noble Experiment" is said to have failed. But prohibition didn't fail - it proved something. Governments cannot legislate and enforce laws that affect the basic human right of choice. People will make choices regardless of what a government maintains or what type of enforcement actions police take.

To see this with clear eyes, all we have to do is look around us. People speed in cars every day. Drivers get tickets, accidents occur and people even get killed. But it doesn't stop motorists from speeding.

The communist government of the Soviet Union collapsed for the same reason. The people under its rule became disenchanted with a government that tried to control every aspect of their lives. The more the rulers tried to control the population, the more the people's will dripped off the hard clenched fists that couldn't hold onto the power.

Today, we have people who would like to bring prohibition back. But this time, they are much smarter.

First, very few are using moral grounds to justify the cause, yet that is what is in the back of many of their minds. Today, they are using scientific data and causation of social ills as the rallying cry.

Organizations like the Utah Alcohol Policy Coalition claim they are only trying to keep our state safe and sane. But one can tell by the rhetoric they spew that keeping kids from drinking and making sure the state's liquor laws are not violated are only two small goals in the back of their minds.

Eventually, the organizations want alcohol totally banned. They want breweries out of business and liquor stores closed. They want no one to drink anything stronger than a Pepsi in the state and, ultimately, in the entire country.

No one can deny that many social ills and health problems are at least, in part, caused by alcohol. According to most highway safety and law enforcement experts, alcohol is involved in at least 50 percent of all fatal car accidents. But the disarming "we are doing this to protect society and young people" ploy does not play to well when people realize the freedom of choice that could be lost if one group gets its way and others jump on the band wagon. The operative word here is "radical."

When I first heard about Mothers Against Drunk Driving, I was all for the organization. People shouldn't drink and drive. If you look on the group's official website, you will find that MADD indicates that the group's reason for existence is to stop drunk drivers.

But the problem is that similar organizations frequently fill up with radicals. When MADD representatives speak on television, they often make little distinction between drunk driving and drinking at all. It is comparable to the negative comments many anti-gun activists make about gun owners. Incidentally, MADD has a side chapter promoting bills on gun control.

It is time that citizens realize how the radical elements in often benign sounding organizations can take the power of the group and turn it to personal purposes.

Attacking legal products, manufacturers and distributors as well as criticizing companies legally advertising products are typical ploys used by activitist. And when the legal maneuvers and antics affect the vote of one of our legislators, we lose some of our individual rights.

Citizens voted in 1933 to repeal the Volstead Act. Let's not allow the fear that radicalism preaches to turn back the clock to from the 21st century to 1920.

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February 5, 2002
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