by Patrick Cockburn
An American took his phlegmatic English friend to see the Niagara Falls. "Isn't that amazing?" said the enthusiastic American. "Look at that vast mass of water dashing over that enormous cliff!"
"But what," replied the unimpressed Englishman, after viewing the sight for some moments, "is to stop it?"
I owe the story to my father, Claud Cockburn, who used to tell it to convey the mood in New York on 24 October 1929, the first day of the Great Crash later known as Black Thursday. He had arrived in the city from Europe a few weeks earlier as junior correspondent for The Times of London just in time to have a ringside seat as the American financial system crumbled. He described the atmosphere on that day as not just edgy or demoralised, but as being like "the morning of a battle which people are beginning for the first time to realise may be lost".