National Tragedies Offer Lessons Learned Outside the Classroom

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 13, 2005

There is no doubt that each of us took stock this past Sunday to reflect on what we were doing four years ago when America was attacked in a manner so unconventional that it still makes us shudder at the tactics some people will employ to declare their enmity toward us.

And all the residual finger-pointing, blame-affixing, and self-serving pontificating by some public figures, elected and self-appointed, easily surfaced when we could not resolve the issue or exact our revenge in a quick and efficient manner.

As the days built into months and now years, we still have not resolved nor put an end to attacks upon our agencies throughout the world, or those of our allies.

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All this direly frustrates Twenty-First Century America.

We are used to instant results, sound bites, photo-ops, and single-cause solutions to complex issues.

And so, when we cannot find those responsible for a heinous act of war, when we cannot annihilate the mechanism which supports their efforts, when we cannot come to terms with the elements of the enemy’s frustrations and end them, as well, we begin to feel a sense of failure – and failure is NOT an acceptable option in our approach to the world!

We Americans are the world’s “can do” folks!

The masters of improvisation with our “American ingenuity”!

We lead the way in figuring out how to solve a problem.

Our history is replete with examples from how we won our independence to how we brought back Apollo 13 from a clearly doomed scenario.

At the same time, when we don’t resolve the issues at hand in relative short-order, the prophets of doom begin to gather and their pronouncements of American weakness or arrogance, depending upon which news pundit is spewing forth his or her personal – but always “objective – analysis, leads to a cascading effect throughout the media. One doom builds upon another until we are at odds with one another over just how to resolve the issue or the crisis.

In short, we Americans in the Twenty-First Century are not as patient a lot as were our mothers and fathers, most of whom lived through at least one world war and an economic depression the likes of which present generations can only imagine.

Thus, when real tragedy strikes – and I don’t mean Alabama losing to Southern Miss or Auburn losing to The Citadel – we are taken back at first.

What happens next, however, is the measure of who we are and of what we have learned.

I am certain that most of us reflected on the irony of taking time out to commemorate the attack of September 11, 2001, in the shadow of the recent tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and its devastation on our region, indeed, on our entire Nation.

For me, here is where the lessons we were exposed to in the classroom as theories have a practical application in the world outside the classroom.

And I saw the lessons repeated time and again in the aftermath of 9/11.

Even with all the rush to find the culprits, all the palaver about mobilization, all the politically motivated speech conjuring, I remember the NYPD and the FDNY steadily going about their jobs of saving people, cleaning up a ravaged city, and making certain that other elements of the city were safe from further invasion.

They would tell us that it was nothing spectacular – just doing their jobs.

But in my eyes, I saw a true American spirit spring into action – the old “ingenuity”, the “can do” attitude, the determination with a simple “let’s roll” utterance, and our flag just seemed to fly with more pride, more dignity, more assurance.

Hurricane Katrina has left a mark, from which it may very well take over a generation to recover and to rebuild.

But if we watch closely and don’t focus on the politicians scrambling to avoid blame by casting blame first, we can see that same spirit which swept over America after 9/11 is beginning to emerge in the small acts of compassion and concern which is the real hallmark of America – only now, we are doing it for US!

In cities and towns across this great Nation, citizens are opening their homes and their purses to the evacuees from Mississippi and Alabama and Louisiana.

I mention Mississippi first because it seems that the national media would rather have us keep our eyes on The Big Easy than on the utter devastation suffered on the Gulf Coasts of Mississippi and our beloved Alabama.

Right here in Demopolis some of our citizens housing some folks who simply have nothing to which they can return.

Americans are not interested in the bitter wars of words by the politicians and the pundits.

They are interested in helping the victims of one of nature’s most horrible occurrences which happened right here in our back yard!

We did it for Europe and Japan after World War II.

We saved France time and again – if they take time to remember – and we kept Russia from being under the swastika.

Now we are doing it for ourselves!

And the lessons we learn from this exercise outside the classroom are the lessons which will stay with us forever.

Which is why I give thanks in my nightly prayers for being fortunate enough to have been born an American!

Dr. Arthur G. Ogden is the Demopolis Campus Director of Alabama Southern Community College.

All his degrees are in philosophy.

He can be reached at