Monday, April 20, 2009

Heroes

If ever our country needed heroes, it is now. We seem to have a collective inferiority complex and no wonder. We're not exactly sure what our place in the world is these days when our lone super-power status is being challenged. We hardly manufacture anything anymore. We'll be lucky if we still have an auto industry left by 2010. India provides our technical support. China sells us our goods (and sometimes poisons us while doing so), while Mexico sells us our drugs (ditto poisoning only in a more deliberate way). The money men scammed even the supposedly smartest of us (i.e., Mort Zuckerman) and are still doing it with our bail-out money. Our economy is in the pit and those of us who still have a job and half-way decent health insurance can consider ourselves lucky. The people we look up to are foolish female celebrities like Paris Hilton and Brittney Spears or the contestants of shows like American Idol and Survivor. No wonder we seem to have lost our way in the 21st century.

And then Somalian pirates highjacked the Maersk Alabama, taking the crew as hostages (which is depressing in itself in that the the world seems to tolerate this type of thuggery with an oh, well shrug as the cost of doing business.) But this time turned out differently. In the first act of heroism, the courageous Captain Richard Phillips offered himself to the pirates in the place of his crew, reminding us that there are still men whose lives are ruled by honor and duty and dignity.

In the second act of heroism, although political versus physical, our president approved the military to do whatever had to be done to rescue the Captain should they determine his safety was in jeopardy. This may not seem like much compared to the Captain Phillips' selfless actions but it actually was because American presidents have been intimidated by the humiliating possibility of rescues gone wrong since Jimmy Carter sent the Special Forces into Iran in an attempt to rescue the hostages there. Those of us who were around then remember that, instead of being given credit for the intent, he was held in contempt for the failure. And then, Somalia again, Blackship Down. Another embarrassment for President Bill Clinton. So it took a high degree of willingness to take political risk for President Obama to say yes, especially considering that he's a Democrat and the liberal wing of his party has little appetite for military adventurism. If the mission had failed, perhaps resulting in the death of the Captain or a miscue on the part of the shooters, you know Barack Obama would have been crucified by the media and both political parties.

Finally, of course, is the military itself, especially the extraordinary Navy SEALs who, in a show of training, skill and will, killed the three pirates with three simultaneous sniper shots, then disappeared back into the nonentity of their positions.

It was because daring, courage, taking responsibility for dangerous decisions are in such short supply in the country today that I have become a NASCAR fan. Granted, racers can't be compared to Navy snipers in the larger scheme of things. For one thing, drivers get gold and glory in return for their fearlessness instead of fading back into the woodwork until we need them again. Soldiers only have the gratitude and admiration of their nation. For them, knowing that we consider them heroes, at a time when we yearn for heroes, must be enough.