Friday, October 15, 2010


A couple days ago on this site I heralded the triumpant survival and rescue of the 33 Chilean miners who had been trapped one-half mile underground for 69 days. I was proud and happy for them, and felt inspired by them.
So far, so good. I stand by my feelings and statements up to that point.

But now some time has passed and new elements have been introduced into the story.
ONE: The last miner had barely emerged from the rescue capsule before countless news analysis shows began featuring doctors, therapists, and psyco-babblers of various stripes all conjecturing on the post-traumatic agonies the survivors were now bound to face.
Excuse me, but have we become a world --- or, more specifically, a nation, since most of this conjecturing came from American TV and radio --- of such weenieness that we now are starting to offer pre-packaged syndromes, disorders, and excuses for every traumatizing event that can impact human lives? These guys just survived one hell of an ordeal and came out amazingly fit and healthy, glad to be breathing fresh air again, smiling and hugging the loved ones gathered to greet them ... why can't we just give them the chance to be tough, durable, adaptable sonsabitches who beat the odds and are happy to be alive and enthused to have more life to live? Why plant the seeds of doubt? Why be so positive that something negative has to come from such an experience?
Consider the events of history --- just the history of our country, for example. Ever hear of Valley Forge? Gettysburg? The challenges of the mountain men who survived alone for months and years in hostile territory? The westward migration via wagon train where there was a grave every mile --- husbands burying wives, wives burying husbands, parents burying children and children burying parents ... and then sucking it up and still finding a way to forge on? The trials of the Mormons? The mercilessly harsh conditions faced by isolated  homesteaders on the vast plains of Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas? ...
Did these people have disorders and syndromes to fall back on? No, all they had was spirit and toughness and detemination. And it was enough. Enough to make them go on, to endure and succeed, to live their lives and build families and work hard for their dreams.
I fear we have lost much of that spirit in our country, our world.
Now too many of us are looking for an excuse for our failures or shortcomings, somethig else to blame besides ourselves. And if we can't think of excuses fast enough, there is an ever-growing army of psycho-babblers out there champing at the bit to develop new disorders and treatments to make us feel better about ourselves and provide new excuses for our problems.
I'm talking in general terms here, of course. Certainly there are traumatic experiences that leave some individuals in need of professional counseling and therapy ... It's just that I don't think there are near as many as we are being encouraged to believe.
And when I use the term "weenieness" I surely am not applying it to the brave miners who have already proved their mettle beyond question. The challenge for them now is to hold fast to their strength and not be misled by those who are so hell bent on seeing them melt down in some manner after the battle has been won.
TWO: Within hours of the rescue, while all or most of the miners were still hospitalized for observation, the lawsuits began flying --- 27 out of 33 of the survivors.
From all reports, safety conditions in the 140-year-old San Jose copper mine were deplorable. This, in spite of Chile allegedly having the strictest mining standards in South America, maybe the world. Accident after accident and violation after violation at San Jose over recent years are a matter of record. The refuge chamber where the miners fled to and assembled after the cave-in was without the power and ventilation it should have been equipped with. Most egregious of all was the fact that a supposedly in-place ladder that would have led from the refuge chamber to the surface 23,000 feet above was incomplete ... it only reached half way.
All of this makes the owners of the San Jose mine sound like greedy, sleazey, money-grubbing slobs with little or no regard to the lives and safety of their workers. And to a large extent that is accurate.
However, there is a little more to the equation. Because of their sub-standard safety reputation, San Jose offered higher-than-standard wages to attract workers. In other words, employees knew --- or should have known --- the risks, and took them anyway, for a better payday.
Maybe it's just me, but when you strike a deal with the devil the you oughta be prepared to shoulder responsibility for at least part of the outcome.
The mine owners are bad guys. Maybe even evil. But the workers --- the heroic ones who survived the cave-in, and other employees as well --- are not clean either. If no one had been willing to work in those unsafe conditions, not even for more pay, then the mine owners would have had to either close up shop or make conditions right. Now the mine will almost certainly shut down anyway, due to bankruptcy from pay-out settlements, other workers will lose their jobs, and the survivors will live off their settlements ... until the money runs out.
So who wins?
Oh, yeah. Maybe the greedy, money-grubbing tort lawyers who no doubt are fanning the flames of all those lawsuits.

The heroic endurance and survival instincts of the trapped miners, combined with the concerted efforts of their above-ground rescuers, will remain a long-remembered triumph.
What came after, however --- for me at least --- will leave the whole thing a little tarnished.
I wish it wasn't so.

Persevere --- WD

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