This 3-part documentary film series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick tells the story of the rise, rule, and fall of the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution and the era it encompassed. The culmination of nearly a century of activism, Prohibition was intended to protect individuals, families, and society at large from the devastating effects of alcohol abuse.
But a faith-driven moral code in the Constitution paradoxically caused millions of Americans to rethink their definition of morality. Thugs became celebrities, authority was rendered impotent. Social mores in place for a century were obliterated. Liquor consumption rocketed, propelling the rest of the culture with it: skirts shortened. Music heated up. America's Sweetheart morphed into The Vamp. Prohibition turned law-abiding citizens into criminals, made a mockery of the justice system, caused illicit drinking to seem glamorous, encouraged neighborhood gangs to become national crime syndicates, and fostered cynicism and hypocrisy that corroded the social contract all across the country.
The film raises vital questions that are as relevant today as they were 100 years ago - about means and ends, individual rights and responsibilities, the proper role of government and finally, who is - and who is not - a real American.
Prohibition Previous Broadcasts
A Nation of Scofflaws (Episode #102H)
KQED World: Sat, Jan 14, 2017 -- 3:00 PM
In 1920, Prohibition goes into effect, making it illegal to manufacture, transport or sell intoxicating liquor. This episode examines the problems of enforcement, as millions of law-abiding Americans become lawbreakers overnight. While a significant portion of the country is willing to adapt to the new law, others are shocked at how inconsistent the Volstead Act actually is. As weaknesses in the law and its enforcement become clear, millions find ways to exploit it. Drys had hoped Prohibition would make the country a safer place, but the law has many victims. Honest policemen are killed on the job, unlucky drinkers are poisoned by adulterated liquor and overzealous federal agents violate civil rights just to make a bust. Alcoholism still exists, and may even be increasing, as women begin to drink in the speakeasies that replace the male-only saloon. Despite the growing discontent with Prohibition and its consequences, few politicians dare to speak out against the law, fearful of its powerful protector, the Anti-Saloon League. (Part 2 of 3)
A Nation of Drunkards (Episode #101H)
KQED World: Sat, Jan 7, 2017 -- 3:00 PM
Since the early years of the American Republic, alcohol has been embedded in the fabric of American culture. But by 1830, the average American over 15 years old consumes nearly seven gallons of pure alcohol a year, three times as much as we drink today. Alcohol abuse wreaks havoc on the lives of many families. As a wave of spiritual fervor for reform sweeps the country, many women and men begin to see alcohol as a scourge. After the Civil War, the country's population swells with immigrants, who bring their drinking customs with them from Ireland, Germany, Italy and other European countries. The temperance campaign ignites, spearheaded by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Carrie Nation and her Home Defenders Army bring publicity by attacking Kansas bars with stones and hatchets, and the Anti-Saloon League (ASL) forms to push for an amendment to the Constitution outlawing alcohol nationally. Most politicians dare not defy the ASL, and in 1917 the 18th Amendment sails through both Houses of Congress; it is ratified by the states in just 13 months. When the Amendment is signed into law, Prohibitionists rejoice that America has become officially dry. But Americans are about to discover that making Prohibition the law of the land has been one thing; enforcing it will be another. (Part 1 of 3)