Last night I sat in front of my computer for about three hours typing out an outline of an article for my Post-Modern American Literature class, (which, incidentally, involves reading four books by non-American writers. Go figure.) Our current project does involve an American author - we are reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien.
The article I was outlining discusses a re-definition of what makes a person courageous. "Courage," argues literary critic Carl Horner, "cannot be separated from wisdom, temperance, and justice." (See "Challenging the Law of Courage and Heroic Identification in Tim O'Brien's If I Die in a Combat Zone and The Things They Carried for more.) In other words, courage doesn't exist in a vacuum. It is influenced by our social constructs of how events should proceed, how courage should look as opposed to what it is, an intangible concept we've given a face to.
It's a division of virtue easily mistaken for something else - do people act out of self-sacrifice because they are afraid of looking afraid and really come off looking courageous, in spite of their mindless agression? Horner argues that most men aren't nearly afraid of death as they are of going home cowards, at least in a war setting. Ultimately, Horner conceeds to O'Brien's definition - "if we are not thinking, we are not human. If we are not thinking, by extension we are not brave in the human dimension. Proper courage is wise courage."
The word "courage" has come up several times in the last few weeks and months in emails and articles and books and whatever else I've read and listend to. One incident that stands out particularly strongly involves and email from a friend saying that going against the church on Proposition 8 is a courageous thing to do because it goes against the norm in Utah. To an extent he is right. It would, by dictionary definition, take a certain amount of courage to go against the masses on the issue - but is it the kind of courage that I want to have? What quality of courage do I want to obtain?
The reason I'm writing about this is, perhaps a bit predictable in light of the events yesterday. I watched the news along with everyone else that has a scrap of patriotism and respect for our country and celebrated the fact that our country has, at least for now, some hope for the future and a small scrap of dignity to cling to on the world scene. But something I saw bothered me. Images of the mass crowds of people in the Mall booing images of President Bush and cheering as his plane left Washington. These are, presumably, the same people who have been telling McCain supporters to suck it up and accept President Obama and give him respect as the choice of the nation.
I don't agree with everything President Bush did. I don't think he is a perfect man or a perfect leader. Nor do I think it is fair to blame everything on him, or to blame everything on Congress. But I do think he is a good man. The popular view of Bush being an illiterate unintelligent monkey who led our country down that dark path of recession and war due to his mindlessness drives me crazy. It is unfair and not true. Wherever the "blame" lies for all this, it isn't just on one man. It is on far too many things that are out of anyone's control.
So at this time of transition, I tip my virtual hat to President Bush for doing all he could in the last eight years to do what he could with what he is given. As my President, he deserves respect. As a good man and a human being, he deserves to maintain his dignity. It will be interesting to see what the next four(+) years bring to our country and whether or not the popular opinion of President Obama shifts at all.