Long Island

On leaders and courage and dreams

19 Oct 2001
revised 22 Oct 2001*

This summer [2001] I've been doing a lot of research on my family history -- and not just it's genealogy (the sorting out the births and deaths and other life events.)  I'm getting a sense of  who these people were and how they lived.  Many of them were early immigrants who moved to what was then nearly the frontier of civilization.  Rough-hewed people, many from Germany, desperate for a better life for themselves and their children, but who found life here perhaps as hard and threatening as that from which they thought they were escaping.

I'm not glorifying them.  They were not exceptional.  Most were pretty ordinary, from what I can tell.  Common laborers and farmers.  

Shortly after they arrive, a great Civil War starts.  Now war then was not dropping bombs on anonymous people from the air. It was a dirty face-to-face business.  They knew they were as likely to be killed by disease and malnutrition as by combat.  Yet these pioneers volunteered!  Fathers and brothers and husbands, some who could barely speak English.  Leaving wives and mothers at home to not only provide for their families, but also produce enough to support the war effort.

And what of their leaders.  Washington was a city at the front.  At least during the first years of the war, invasion was likely, often imminent.  And it was not clear that the city would not be overrun.  And it was not just formal invasion, but terrorists and spies were everywhere.  There were real threats!  There was real danger!

Did their President go into hiding?  Did their Congress shut down?  Did bureaucrats demand safety?  No, they stayed.  And from what I have read, never seriously considered relocating or shutting down.

Let's contrast--

We see a Congress skipping town on the vague threat of disease but no evidence of  it's widespread reality.  They tell us to go about our daily lives without fear -- but they themselves don't walk the talk. Our leaders, and we ourselves, honor with words the real risks our firemen, policemen, and soldiers take everyday, but seem unwilling to face risk possibilities in our own daily lives.

We are told that the way to defeat the "evil doers" is to buy more cars and travel --  resume our obscene debates on the merits of crunchy verses puffy Cheetos -- and consume the world's resources greatly out of proportion to our share so that we can amuse ourselves with video games and motorcycles.   Is this what our leaders think are the fundamental values of our society -- the dream we should honor as Americans?  Is this all that is demanded of us to honor those 4000 who lost their lives, and 10's of thousands others directly affected by the events of September 11?

What of high ideals, and courage, and self-sacrifice?

* I revised this comment slightly on Monday, 22 Oct 2001, as it became apparent that anthrax was more widely distributed than originally thought, resulting in the death of Postal workers.  The basic thrust remains the same however -- let's not let our fears drive our daily lives, but rather, let us show reasoned courage.