A follow-up to my prior post regarding the Courage Deficit we are now facing.
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn. 15:13) Since posting my last column on today’s Deficit of Courage (April 20), events have confirmed many of the arguments made in that post. Exactly one week later, to the day, a shooting erupted at the Chabod House of Poway synagogue in San Diego followed three days later by another savage attack on a college campus in Charlotte, North Carolina. Then on May 7 a third brutal attack unfolded at a STEM high school in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, practically my own back yard. But in each instance, what might have unfolded as another major tragedy was foiled by the courageous intervention of ordinary citizens whose quick and selfless actions prevented major bloodbaths. Of those five courageous individuals who confronted various gunmen, two survived their assailant’s attacks, still, three of their company perished while preserving the lives of others.
Lori Gilbert Kaye, a 60 year old Jewish wife and mother, died to protect her rabbi. University of North Carolina student Riley Howell, age 21, forcefully threw a murderous gunman to the classroom floor, taking three bullets including a fatal shot to the head in so doing. One week later, in Colorado, three 18 year old high school students ~ Kendrick Castillo, Joshua Jones, and Brendan Bialy ~ charged a shooter and disarmed him but not before Jones was twice wounded and Kendrick Castillo killed. Courage, it would seem, has not entirely departed our nation, thank God. All five of these otherwise very ordinary individuals proved, in a moment of real crisis, that valor and heroism are well and alive in our society. And so every American should be rightly proud of what these heroes did. But sadly, there is a segment in our elite academic and media establishments that has wasted no time downplaying and begrudging their heroism.
That same media establishment which has no problem sensationalizing these cold blooded killings while glamorizing the killers by spilling gallons of ink to make their names into household words, airing their sordid life stories and petty grievances ─ that same media will just as quickly forget the valiant heroes who put an end to their massacres. Worse, these journalistic vultures work to turn real heroes into anti-heroes by propagating nonsense like that spouted by some visiting professor of psychiatry at the CU Medical Center. “The harm is that they act in a heroic manner and put themselves in danger. That is not their job,” claims Professor Berkowitz who has apparently never read the parable of the Good Samaritan or visited the United Flight 93 crash site memorial in southwest Pennsylvania. (What was he doing on 9/11?) In his view and others of his exalted rank it is apparently “not our job” to risk life and limb to preserve innocent lives. And why would any responsible journal even be tempted to dignify such a supercilious and shallow opinion in print? Yet the Denver Post eagerly passed off his psycho-jibberish as meaningful “news” without ever blinking, only ten short days after Kendrick Castillo had made the ultimate sacrifice for his classmates. (Supposedly Kendrick’s job was to hide or stand by idly as his peers were murdered one by one.)
This strange and cowardly view is not some isolated rant. Many progressive elites today seem to be of one mind, that putting oneself in harms way for another is absolute madness. To wit: Kenneth Trump (no relation to our president) of the National School Safety and Security Services was quoted in the Wall Street Journal. “Are we creating a generation of martyrs to believe that this is the appropriate response?” Apparently he too believes that the appropriate response is curling up in the fetal position waiting for some madman to pump a bullet in your brain while the “experts” ponder how to best respond to any given threat. Backing up this morbid assessment, the superintendent of the Dallas Public Schools believes that, “the Colorado student who lost his life showed great courage and selflessness, but (this official) doesn’t recommend fighting back.”
Instead of celebrating valor and courage and holding up heroes as models to be emulated, the “experts” and professional educrats now whisper ominously how any heroic notions should be considered off limits as something far too “dangerous” for young people to ever contemplate. Heroes are fine in comic books but not for real life, so we’d better play this thing down before the idea of risking anything for your neighbor or classmates catches on. And if true heroes only set a dangerous example, even if we must tolerate them at times, then better to keep them safely out of public view. The real perceived threats, in their tunnel-vision worldview, seem to be those people who might dare risk themselves to save others. But I ask them, how is begrudging courage and disparaging heroism supposed to form character in the young?
Who then will be left to inspire today’s youth? Oily politicians, whiny athletes, plasticized movie stars, and phony celebrities? How about journalists who make their living sensationalizing the lives of murderers, when common decency demands that the limitless free publicity received, which too often drives psychopaths to wreak more carnage, should be withheld. It’s okay to glamorize the criminals and their crimes, yet the National Association of School Psychologists hypocritically cautions against unduly publicizing those who would defend lives. “The students who lost their lives should be honored, but extensive coverage of their acts could be harmful. We caution against unintentionally glamorizing the extremely high risk of confronting an armed assailant head on, particularly when it involves youth.” Their faulty grammar is surpassed only by the faulty and cowardly ethos they espouse.
Consider that if Americans had believed such nonsense back in 1941, Hitler and Imperial Japan would have simply carved up the world between them. Remember, it was 18 and 21 year olds who selflessly marched off to war in order to prevent the triumph of tyranny. Fortunately for us today NASP wasn’t around to caution them against “glamorizing the extremely high risk” that the war represented. The security we enjoy today was made possible by those heroic young men, “confronting an armed assailant head on.” A quarter million of them actually gave their lives for the sake of people they had never met, and whose language many never even heard. How are Riley Howell and Kendrick Castillo any less heroic than those American G.I.s were?
Have our standards have fallen so low since then? Today NASP espouses an abysmally lower standard. “We realize that there is a fine line between rightly recognizing the actions (of heroes) and unintentionally creating the perception that heroism in and of itself is a goal for our children.” A finely parsed way of saying that heroism, selfless, or courageous actions officially need to be discouraged. That same coddled generation which snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Vietnam now preaches to its offspring a doctrine of limpid pacifism in the face of evil. Fortunately, there are some among our youth who have not swallowed that sugar coated poison pill. There are times when evil must be confronted, come what may.
How well Alexander Solzhenitsyn diagnosed the problem when he noted in his 1978 Harvard address, “a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and intellectual elite. Of course there are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.” There he hit a raw nerve. The real problem is not with ordinary people but with the leadership, which is today in a state of profound crisis. Only weak and fearful leaders would take such a ludicrous position as we have lately seen. To knowingly disparage the brave actions of courageous and valiant people or to try and gloss over their heroism is both contemptible and cowardly. These are the very people who should be held high in public view because they point so eloquently to the better angels in our own nature. But if the courageous can have no real influence on our public life, then by default only the meanest. lowest, and scurrilous elements in society will influence it.
The courage deficit today is most pronounced among the leadership class, especially in education. One of the primary stated purposes of education in the early republic had been to mold and unite a diverse people into an indivisible nation of Americans. Now it seems to serve the opposite purpose. Since the 1960s University administrators have capitulated to increasingly radical demands by student “pressure groups,” too timid to maintain any behavioral standard and too frightened to tell their students the truth. They resort to pampering and coddling rather than teaching or challenging the student. They hide behind PC slogans, contort history into class ideology, and promote racial and gender identity politics ─ all of which only divide and polarize our citizenry. These elite educrats now willingly sanction the destruction of monuments and erase the common heritage as they forever bow obeisantly to any passing political winds that happen to be stirring.
The one thing they are afraid to do is to take an unpopular stand, or to lead in any true moment of crisis. That is why people who demonstrate real courage represent such a threat to them. True heroes expose and betray the abject hollowness of their own vacuous characters. That is reason enough for them to dismiss truly courageous souls as some sort of fanatics. In order to mask their own cowardice, they resort to brainwashing the young in their charge to believe that courage simply means going along with the crowd. Group-think opinions displace long settled truths. And as absolutes become relative, relativism becomes absolute. Columnist David Greenfield noted that brainwashing simply means compelling someone to believe something that isn’t true. And if courage is redefined to mean hiding under a desk, then someone has certainly been brainwashed.
How have supposedly rational, free thinking beings reached such a brainwashed state? Actually, we do it to ourselves to a large degree. As Mr. Greenfield points out, “Human beings don’t behave rationally. We rationalize our behavior,” a perfect clinical description of Original Sin and its effects. We accept what is patently untrue simply because we want it to be true. We can convince ourselves of just about anything, and make sense of it on some level. The only preventative to such self-deception is that great body of laws, history, traditions, religious and moral values handed down from the ages which give us some objective reference point, so that we don’t delude ourselves into believing that black is white, or up is down. This is the basis of “common sense.” But if we persist in believing that our personal feelings represent core reality, we will inevitably be subjected to constant manipulation by charlatans.
It takes not only wisdom but real courage to admit that there is something wiser, greater, and more important than ourselves out there so that we need not live out our lives in fear. Even in their grief the Howell family beautifully expressed this ethos of human courage. “Riley died the way he lived, putting others first. Our hope is that his example resonates with everyone. We hope others will, if ever the need arises, answer the call to be selfless and do the right thing without hesitation.” To which we should all respond, Amen!
Francis J. Pierson +a.m.d.g.