I have not worked in a coal mine, but as a teen exchange student I visited a British one.  We went down a rickety elevator open to the walls, walked bent over along the coal seam (not high enough for any but a very short person to stand up), were deafened by the noise of the jack hammers knocking the coal loose.  A team also was building tracks along the way to transport the coal on low cars back to the lift to hoist it out of the mine.  This was a damp, cold, dirty place with many hazards — killing gas, collapses, injuries from the cars, great fatigue for a day’s work as well as lung hazards from the inhaled coal dust. One’s heart goes out to the guys probably dead in Utah by now and their families.

But a broader observation here.  When I was a student in an Ivy college a half century back we routinely got blue collar summer jobs.  The money was good and it was a sort of macho thing to report back the next fall.  I variously worked in a large aircraft plant (noise affecting hearing), did construction and learned various skills there, had a second job in a major scrap metal operation where we mainly sorted things ranging from bomb fuses to metal tools of varying kinds that were being discarded.  I carried on during an exchange year at Oxford working as a heavy freight porter at the station which was presumably flooded out this past week or so with the heavy rains.

One made friends with those with whom one was working (“buddies” here and “mates” in G.B.) and discovered that they were not stupid, had many interests, ranging from opera to flying small planes, lived lives with families that they were then able to support as a single bread winner.  We were breaking down the class barriers that were formidable in Britain and presumably the rest of Europe that had hung over from the not too distant feudal distinctions.  All of these jobs were dangerous.  I suffered several lesser injuries, but had people with whom I was working killed at or near the times that I was working with them.

I can’t help but think that we have been reestablishing the old class barriers during recent decades with the divisions between those who did not graduate from high school and those who did not make it into college. And, of course the loss of industrial jobs has put terrible pressures on all who do not have some higher education — and the outsourcing as well on some of those who do.

The bottom line here is that one no longer feels the social solidarity that we had developed during the two coast threats to us of WW2 and our responses to them — together.  Even the civil rights movement grew out of those experiences.  And for a time we WERE together.

I worry now that too many Americans are distancing themselves from THEM — whether these be out coal miners or our military being targeted in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We are no longer a nation together and the resentments are spilling over into our politics where appeals to frustration sponsor hatreds and of and contempt for fellow humans — both here and over there.  And too many people have been persuaded to vote against the tenets of their own proclaimed religions and own best interests by this politics of hate and resentment.  I need not spell out the ‘enemies’ here, ranging from women and gays to Muslims.  There are too many who claim to care about embryos and don’t give a damn for real children.  If they did, we would not have children going hungry and without medical care in this country and would not be killing so many innocents over there.  We seem to be a schizophrenic nation (in the popular sense of the word) — confused and frightened by mythical enemies that just happen to be our fellow human beings!

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent  212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]
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