Tuesday, December 28, 2010

‘A nation of wusses’

Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania was HOT.

Facing forecasts of heavy snow and wind, the NFL postponed the Vikings Eagles Sunday evening game to Tuesday night. Rendell called the decision a joke, saying that legendary Green Bay Packers coach and tough guy Vince Lombardi would be spinning in his grave. He also threw out a bit of cultural commentary:

“My biggest beef is that this is part of what’s happened in this country,” Rendell said in an interview on 97.5 radio in Philly. “I think we’ve become wussies. ... We’ve become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything. If this was in China do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down.” — Washington Post

Well, Ed, I was thinking along the same lines a few days ago.

I was reading “War On The Run,” a recent biography of Maj. Robert Rogers, who led what you might consider America’s first special operations force during the French & Indian War (1755-1763).

No wusses there. Just getting through life was damned hard and the odds of simply making it through childhood would make a Vegas oddsmaker blanch. Author John F. Ross describes a diphtheria epidemic that claimed 70 percent of the children in a New England community probably about the size of Sisters in a matter of days. Some parents lost every one of their children, one after another.

Poor nutrition and nearly nonexistent medical understanding meant that wounds and injuries healed slowly or not at all — and getting hurt or wounded was nearly inevitable in the rough life of the New England frontier, especially in wartime.

The toughest, most athletic men, like Rogers himself, were subject to ailments from arthritis to malaria to scurvy. It’s no wonder that many ended up, again like Rogers, broken down alcoholics. Rum and brandy were about all that you could count on to blunt the pain and discomfort of living.

That’s to say nothing of getting captured by pissed off Abenaki who might adopt you if they felt like it — or chew your fingers off, drop a necklace of red-hot tomahawk heads on your shoulders, scalp you and pour hot coals over your bare skull. Or, if they were in hurry, they might just tie you to a tree and chop you to bits.

Closing the book and going online I find stories that tell me “New study finds baby boomers are in a funk,” reporting “less overall life satisfaction during their adulthood than have previous generations.” Hmmmm....

And — sign of the times — a report that psychology guidelines are dropping narcissistic personality disorder from diagnoses. Maybe because narcissism is the “new normal.”

You were saying, Ed?

OK, OK, I understand that it’s easy to wear out the “our ancestors had it so much harder” riff: “Why, in my day, we walked 20 miles to school in the snow. Uphill in both directions. Ate tree bark and thanked god for every bite.”

“Yes, Aunt Susie. We know.”

Sisters songwriter Dennis McGregor spoofs all that business wonderfully in his song “Pioneer Dog” (“A pioneer dog had a haaaard life to live...”)

I know too much about the good ol’ days to get too romantic about ’em. I’m not about to give up antibiotics, modern dentistry or my nice new Columbia snowboots.

But, you know, a little perspective really helps. It’s not fashionable these days to have heroes from history, but I do. And I often have taken courage and inspiration from their travails and their fortitude. Whether it’s simply keeping on when I want to quit — in the woods, the gym, wherever — or facing up to the inevitable blows that life hands to us all, I know I can stay the course, because I know that others have faced up to much tougher plights.

No, I don’t wish I lived in the harsh world of our forefathers. But even less do I want to live in a nation of wusses.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. Jim, I do agree with you and thank you for the reminder of how hard it could be. But something popped into my mind about how we have a different kind of hard which might cause this "funk." I think of it as a lack of adventure. When you're constantly sitting on an edge, life is exciting (whether good or bad). When life gets too comfortable, like it often is now, it gets depressing. Thus, funk.

  2. Jim,

    I recently had this same discussion while on the road for work.

    The point was made that when we sent 17 and 18 year old Men to fight in WW2. Men, not boys. That historical segment of Americans, both men and women, grew up during the Depression (as opposed to "depression" as we use the term so often today).

    Little or no money; little or no work; little or no food; and all that went with it. We sent men and women who were for the most part tough, as they they lived in and through tough times.

    Today we, in part, have it very easy in so many ways and it is due to, in part, the Depression Generation that rebuilt the country after both the Depression and WW2.

    It wouldn't hurt us to pull out that Kindell, or perhaps visit the library (gads, do such places still exist in this day and age?), and read a book or two about the Depression of the 1930s and how the times shaped the Generation that overcame it.

    We are stil the same people, we Americans. Perhaps we just need to both honor and be reminded by those not so far behind us of how tough we can be in these tough times.