Whatever adventurer-reporter Austin Tice’s fate – and our prayers are with him – he should be, and will be, long-remembered for the moving testament to his country published Aug. 26 in The Sun News. Tice’s powerfully stated insight is that change and growth – as well as the world around us – have not been kind to the unique American spirit and culture which traditionally made us so strong, but rather has somehow shut down the kind of optimistic, risk-taking individuality that made it all possible. How could such a historically robust culture have slid into the play-it-safe, look-out-for-me obsessions of modern America? Everybody has an elaborate answer and, usually, a benign justification. But Tice grabs it by the ears, shakes it, and says, simply, “Get over all that. Pay attention to what we’ve done and how we’ve done it in the past. Get off our keesters and just do it!” How refreshing!
Our country is wallowing in two threatening crises. One domestic – economic policy – and the other international – the usual thugs and murderers stalking the world. What kind, and how bad, and why these crises are afflicting us is argued endlessly and has clearly become a false and dangerous analogue for action. Personally, in the spirit of Austin Tice, I think we would all do well to look at Franklin Roosevelt, who as president also had crushing domestic economic and international security crises on his hands, and who by sheer example and leadership mustered and put to work the very qualities Austin Tice talks about to right the ship. He never blanched, whined or hesitated when he had to act – even when as a liberal Wilsonian Democrat, he crossed the grain of his personal preferences or principles. His economic solutions were messy, without precedent, and highly unpopular, but with guts and charm and persistent optimism, he forged a governing coalition that kept the worst of the wolves away from American doors until the economy got on its feet.
Internationally, he saw clearly what Hitler and the Japanese military cabal were up to and he called it by name – murder, rape, aggression, slavery – not by some weasely politically correct euphemism. He knew that America was again going to have to step up and use its power in the name of democracy and freedom. His country either didn’t see what he did or was simply weary of spilling American blood in foreign wars. Roosevelt nevertheless stood tall and stretched his executive powers to the limit – and even beyond some would argue – to rearm the country and our allies. He used his considerable political skills – not all of them cordial or friendly – to coerce Congress (by one vote) to reinstate the draft. When the bombs started falling on Poland and England and France and Pearl Harbor, our planes, tanks, guns, and ships were in place and growing in numbers, manned by the “greatest generation” who stopped the aggressors in their tracks.
Thank you, Austin Tice, for bringing all those possibilities before us as something to think about as we deal with the binds we find ourselves in today. And, wherever you are, may God go with you.
The writer lives in Louisville, Ky., and Myrtle Beach.
Editor’s note: McClatchy reported Thursday that sources are saying that Tice is being held by the Syrian government, though the Syrians are declining to comment.