One day last fortnight, one man's voice was heard in the U. S. Senate for more than a solid hour. He told as horrid a story as the Senate had heard in years, a story of "dark evils of bloody warfare, sickness, suffering, hardship, privation, want and hunger. . . ." It was Senator Hiram Warren Johnson of California describing, not without politico-oratorical flourishes, the condition which Pennsylvania permitted its two-and-a-half-year-old coal strike to reach this winter (TIME, Nov. 28).
When the white-crested Californian was through, haggard Senator Reed of Pennsylvania got up and acknowledged that every word was true.
The Senate prepared to start one of its more important Inquiries, into bituminous trouble in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia.
Senator Johnson's speech was florid but fair. It outlined the causes and history of the strike. It repeated the miners' charges, the operators' defense and countercharges. It laid blame heavily, but more important than laying blame it focussed public attention upon immediate, imperative necessities to which blame seemed irrelevant.
Though he had not been over the ground himself, Senator Johnson had collected an anthology of eye-witness accounts which he read into the record. That most of these accounts came from sources which would ordinarily be called "sensational" or "sentimental" made them all the more reliable. To extreme situations, only extremists can do justice. Excerpts from Senator Johnson's anthology:
"We saw thousands of women and children literally starving to death. We found hundreds of destitute families living in crudely constructed, bare, board shacks . . . (New York Daily News).
"Privacy? No. Overcrowded? Yes. But there is no lack of ventilation. With the temperature below freezing and a 30-mile wind howling down the valleys and across the hillsides, there is warmth and a measure of comfort in snuggling up close as the cold air rushes in through the unmatched boards. . . . The $3-a-week allowance from the union must furnish food, clothing and other necessaries. For a family of five this means a little less than 9 cents per day. . . ." (New York Evening World).
". . . This uncivilized spectacle of families evicted from their homes and living like dogs among slops in kennels opposite the very thresholds of their vacant homes is wrong. . . .
"Children are hungry and sore-eyed in these kennels. Mothers have not the milk for their wretched babies.
"The civilization which countenances the wretchedness that exists along the hems of this fine city becomes a horror. . . ." (Fannie Hurst in the Hearst press).
Had Senator Johnson chosen, he could have quoted Writer Hurst much further with potent effect. She, outstanding "throb" artist in U. S. fiction, at last had a subject which even her clotted vocabulary did not seem to burlesque. Other Hurstian patches on the strike were:
"Capital, by this behaviorism, is turning the heart of labor into gall.
"Incipient, red bolshevism is stalking these mining camps, children are born and reared into abhorrence of present conditions. . . .