L. Neil Smith's
Number 185, August 5, 2002


by Mark Lamoree

Special to TLE

Tonight, the nine miners pulled -- literally -- from the bowels of the Earth appeared together on television. They told their story in detail, but with no drama. Although they survived only because of cool-headedness in the face of a danger that would leave the vast majority of human beings gibbering in insensate terror and because of determination that is truly awe-inspiring, they did not trumpet themselves as heroes. Repeatedly, they insisted that the true heroes were the men who worked to free them. Several times during the interview, I found myself choked up, full of admiration for these brave, direct, and modest men. Watching them, and thinking about the effort that brought them back into the world of the living, made me proud to be an American, proud to come from the same country that spawned these humble titans. Hell, they made me proud to be part of the same species.

An hour or so later, my renewed faith in humanity was somewhat shaken. On the tonight show, the governor of PA appeared to tell his story. In fairness, I must say that he appeared sincere in his concern for the miners. However, one must ask why he, of all people, felt he could be a spokesman for the rescuers and the rescued. Repeatedly, the governor used the word "we" when referring to the rescuers. What, precisely, did he do? I doubt he was manning a drill, or helping to pump away the frigid water. I'm sure he did all that his office would allow him to do. His speeches were undoubtedly inspiring. He was not, however, one of the rescuers. It was not his mind that engineered a solution, it was not his muscle that bored a hole 260 feet into the earth, and it was not his courage that allowed the miners to survive. He was, at best, an afterthought. That did not, however, stop him from claiming to be a spokesman for the men who made it happen.

My impression of the whole episode is that it is illustrative of a difference between basic elements of society. On one hand, you have the miners, and on the other, the politicians.

Every day, the coal miners went down into an environment that would scare the hell of most people. Imagine riding ten or fifteen stories down in a makeshift elevator whose steel cage front looks at nothing but a blank rock wall. Once at the bottom, the miners moved off through tunnels only 48 inches high, to rip apart the rock at the end. The work is physically hard, and dangerous. There is always the possibility of a cave-in, always the possibility of being poisoned by explosive gas, or the possibility of hitting water. Those nine miners, and countless like them, know that. They do it anyway.

When they drilled into another mine, and the water rushed in, the miners' first considered action was to call an alert to those on lower ground. When escape became impossible, they did everything they could to improve their chances, made final preparations, and began the process of waiting to die or be rescued.

Above, the rescue effort began almost immediately. The men did not dawdle, and did not look for someone to blame. They got to work. And they continued to work for three days, even after all reason indicated that they men could not possibly still be alive. They adopted as their motto, "nine for nine", and that is exactly what they achieved.

This stands in contrast to the politicians. While the miners, and nearly every person in society, works to produce and achieve, the politicians confiscate their money, issue regulations to direct their lives, and work to assure their re-election. As I said before, the governor seemed very sincere in his concern. But he was not one of the rescuers. He was, however, willing to align himself with them when politically expedient. Decency would have dictated that he shut his mouth and stay out of the way.


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