CONFRATERNITY OF MINERS AND LOBSTERMEN
New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, in his unsuccessful 1968 attempt to wrest the GOP presidential nomination from Richard Nixon, rendered a profound speech in San Francisco, focusing on the Brotherhood of Man and the Fatherhood of God, in which he tried to summon the electorate to rise above the political considerations of the time and embrace the broader ideals of world unity and domestic peace.
Rockefeller’s speech was given at a time when the world was riven by Cold War between the US and Soviet Union, with Europe struggling to consolidate a common market, with Africa torn by civil wars which succeeded its colonial past, when Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were urging America to throw off the last bonds of slavery, and, over-arching all discourse, the war in Viet Nam continued to consume American lives and treasure.
Sadly, the media coined the term “BoMFoG” to describe Rockefeller’s plea for peaceful solutions founded on the bedrock of shared concern for our fellow man. Over time, the term has been used to equate with oral novocaine, pious blather, lack of content.
And, over time, we as a people have become as intolerant of others ideas and profferred solutions as the media of the Sixties was of Rockefeller.
Only on rare occasion do we bond as a people – with a shared vision, or in pursuit of a common goal. Today, public discourse, especially political dialogue, is barren of gentility and civility.
The mine disaster in the parched desert of Chile joins with the devastation of Katrina, the Sago mine collapse, the earthquake in China, the tsunami in the South Pacific, the hurricane in Haiti, and other compelling human dramas as events which prompted people of all races, religions, political suasion, and economic circumstance to put aside all other consideration to focus on aiding and rescuing the victims of such disasters. Inevitably, the politicians would have their day, notably with respect to Katrina, but there were brief shining moments when much of mankind actually bonded to help those in need.
Never more so than in the rescue of 32 Chilean and one Bolivian miner. More than 1,000 journalists rushed to the scene to record the incredible rescue, which was televised live to rapt audiences in 40 countries. Few if any of these miners were known outside their small village; doubtless few had ever met the President of Chile, who was there to encourage his people throughout the rescue. The story was repeatedly endlessly: how 33 men had no communication with the outside world for the first 17 days after 700,000 tons of rock entombed their mine, how they survived those 17 days on food rations intended for just two days; how nations and companies around the world responded with technicians, equipment and supplies, including the experts from NASA who designed the rescue capsule. The world rejoices in their rescue.
This rescue was but the latest and perhaps most enthralling example of confraternity, the bonding of men (and women) in common brotherhood.
Confraternity was the underlying theme in the sermons of Jesus Christ; the message was themed in the preachments of Mohammed, its essence was distilled in the writings of Confucius.
Today, we are a divided people, and there is much anger in our public discourse. Even hatred.
The flames of hatred are spread wantonly in this age of instant communication, by individuals, by talk radio, and by a media obsessed by its penchant for controversy. The incredible decision of the Supreme Court to let corporations take over the funding of political life adds dollar denominated fuel to the maelstrom of warped opinion.
Hatred must be taught, it is a learned behavior.
During the height of the intifada, I met with some Israeli officials in a compound in East Jerusalem. A school was housed in the compound, and boys were playing soccer on the hardscrabble ground. Arab boys were watching through the iron fence. I made a bet with a Mossad official, if you ask the Arab boys to play, they speak enough of each other’s language to have a game. And, they did for a while – until some Arab men came to the compound and took their boys away. Look at the curriculum of some elementary schools in the Arab World; they teach hatred of America. We have precious little influence on opinions communicated instantly in the Arab Street, a term with the quite literal meaning of Arab public opinion.
What will our children take away from the campaigns of 2010? Respect for another’s beliefs? Tolerance of dissent? Can they ignore the angry banners, the epithets? How can reason prevail when all appeals to reason fall on the deafened ears of zealots?
If there is a collateral benefit to these calamities, it is that we learn more about people who live outside the grid of our lives. We know much more about fishermen in the Gulf, and the poor who lived in New Orleans Lower 9th Ward. We shared the sorrow and numbing disappointment of the families whose hopes were dashed at Sago. We watched Chinese parents dig with bare hands and bloodied fingers trying to find their children in the rubble of their school, children as precious to them as any of ours. Those were natural disasters. I also watched firemen digging by hand through the debris of Ground Zero, just as years before I watched Berliners scratch through bombed-out remains. Those disasters, like the Murrah building, were born of hatred run amok, and, in Berlin’s case, of the need to terminate the hatred.
Over two days, we watched the hourly extraction of 33 miners, we shared the joy of their reunion with their families. And we were proud of the rescuers; civilization had been served.
The lesson is that we show compassion – when our own interests are not threatened.
There is an urgent need in America’s political discourse, in negotiations in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, for tolerance, for civility, for confraternity.
Heed a lesson taught long ago when the Nazi juggernaught crushed virtually all of Europe, killing millions, rending asunder the very fabric of society. “They came for the gypsies, the bohemians, the homosexuals, but I was not one of them, and did not protest. Then they came for the intellectuals and academics who protested the loss of liberty and property, but I was not an intellectual nor an academic and I did not protest. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew and did not protest. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to protest.”