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  • Writer's pictureRKPROST

The Plow that Broke the Plains

The dominant view of technology is that it is a tool or instrument to satisfy human needs. The Plow that Broke the Plains depicts how technological factors caused the Dust Bowl, yet the government intervention to solve the drought includes using technology. The documentary's narrative reminded me a lot of Martin Heidegger's The Question Concerning Technology concepts.

Heidegger believed that the essence of technology was to recognize the beauty of existence. However, modern technology strayed from discovering nature's purpose toward being the master of it. The beginning of The Plow that Broke the Plains shows empty grassland and a repeated narration, “A country of high winds and sun. High winds and sun. Without rivers. Without streams,” to emphasize the ecological disaster (“The Plow that Broke the Plains”).

The federal land policies, farm economics, and cultural factors motivated farmers to manufacture and manipulate the land ( editors). Instead of seeing nature as an entity, how it is, humans saw the potential and power of what the land could do for them. They looked at how nature "belonged" to humans and disconnected themselves from being a part of nature. While the technological achievements enabled innovation in agriculture, they also presented new challenges.

There is a montage of tractors, grain mills, canons, and ships acknowledging the role technology played in the disaster. However, the documentary does not consider how the government's policies and social context of World War I contributed to the Dust Bowl. Instead, the documentary depicts the New Deal and the government as a savior and blames technology and drought. The same factors (modern technology and resettlement) the government relied on to solve the Dust Bowl are the same ones, which the film claims caused it in the first place. Since the WPA produced this film, the purpose was to shape public opinion to minimize the government's responsibility in the disaster overall.

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