Our political discourse has become so predictably crazy that I expect to hear cries of ‘socialism’ following the President’s Thanksgiving address…
“This is not the hardest Thanksgiving America has ever faced. But as long as many members of our American family are hurting, we’ve got to look out for one another,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address, released for Thanksgiving.
“we’ve got to look out for one another”—is this the American way? What is the spirit of our country? Is it grounded in the prestige and might of our corporations? Is it expressed in a concept of fairness that says you get what you pay for and you don’t argue with the boss? Two recent news stories show the difference…
PROVIDENCE — It was mid-May 1981, and for Lien Huong Nguyen and the 51 other Vietnamese “boat people” escaping communist Vietnam in a rickety fishing boat, the situation was looking hopeless.
They had been four days at sea attempting to reach freedom, but found themselves adrift in the South Pacific after their engine failed. They were without food and water, and the boat was leaking.
Their SOS signs and pleas for help failed to draw the attention of at least five passing ships.
It was then that Lien, who had carved out a life in Vietnam as dentist, began to wonder if she had made a terrible mistake trying to bring two of her three children, ages 5 and 6, on such a risky voyage.
“I looked at my children and saw they were so innocent. They didn’t know what freedom is, or what dictatorship is. And, I took them away from the house and put them into danger. I didn’t protect them. I felt so badly that night.”
Then she saw a light from a ship providing supplies for an Exxon oil rig. The ship, the 300-foot salvage vessel Rainbow, was skippered by Charles Romano Jr., of East Providence, an ex-Navy seal who had done three tours of duty in Vietnam.
Romano had received a memo from Exxon warning employees not to pick up any refugees. But deciding that those in the boat would perish if he failed to help them in the face of an impending storm, he ignored the memo.
The refugees were then transported from his vessel to a German drill ship that took them to a refugee camp in Indonesia.
Romano, who received five Purple Hearts during his three tours of duty in Vietnam as a Riverine squadron member and Navy seal, remarked Sunday: “It’s always nice to find something in your life that you did right for a change.”
But he added: “I’m sure what I did was normal … Everyone here would have done the same thing I did. There’s nothing special about it. I just happened to be there at the right time.”
Charles Romano recently met with the family he saved, who are now American citizens. His disobedience to the Exxon Corporation, I think, is the kind of America we want to be.
The following story of privatization and obedience was so disenheartening to me that I could not find words to comment on it. At the three health care Town Halls I attended, arguing with opponents of reform, I had more than one person tell me that the historical example of the private firefighters who would stand around laughing while your house burned was the individualistic America we want to return to. I’m appalled that a small town in Tennessee actually carried this out…
The mayor of South Fulton, Tenn., stands by his town’s policy that led firefighters to watch from the sidelines while a man’s county home burned to the ground because he hadn’t paid the $75 fire protection fee, WPSD reports. Gene Cranick, owner of the now-gutted house in Obion County, says he called 911 and offered to pay whatever it would take to get the firefighters to act, but they said they wouldn’t do anything, WPSD reports.They only responded when it looked as if the fire might spread to the house of a neighbor who had paid the fee.
There are many influential voices in American politics disparaging the government they are part of, glorifying the free market and the advancement of individualism. A belief in social responsibility and a basic human response of helping people in trouble is condemned as ‘socialism’. What are we becoming?
Was Charles Romano wrong for disobeying Exxon Corporation and saving a family from certain death? Five ships had passed the Nguyens without stopping. Were the firefighters right for standing idle while a neighbor’s house burned? Was their obedience something we admire? What is the spirit of our country?
“ But as long as many members of our American family are hurting, we’ve got to look out for one another,” Good words for Thanksgiving, a day of sharing and gratitude.