They don’t make ’em like that anymore..
Yesterday I did not read the news at all and only used the internet for work. It was the first truly pleasant day I’ve had in weeks. Rather than dissect the deplorable (can I even use that word now?) state of partisan conflict in this country, I’m going to write about a political figure known for his bipartisanship, John H. Chafee, a Marine veteran of WWII and Korea, Governor of Rhode Island, Secretary of the Navy, and Republican Senator. He died in 1999, apparently along with cooperation in government.
Born in 1922 into a prominent (yes, privileged), old Rhode Island family. Chafee was a student at Yale when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He immediately joined the Marines, eventually fighting on Guadalcanal and, after being commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, on Okinawa. After the war, he graduated from Yale in 1947 (a member of Skull and Bones no less) before attending Harvard Law School (1950). Recalled to active service in 1951 , he served as a Marine Captain in the Korean War. I discovered Chafee in the Korean War memoir I just read, The Coldest War, by James Brady. Since Brady called Chafee, his CO, “the only truly great man I’ve yet met in my life” (p. 136), I thought I should look him up. He was, indeed, one of the rare breed of honorable politicians.
As first a Governor and then a U.S. Senator, Chafee was renown for his integrity, fairness and willingness to work with the opposition. You can read all about it in the (typically slanted) New York Times obituary. Still, back in those days opponents could appreciate each other to a degree unheard of today. After all, President Clinton, a Democrat, awarded Republican Chafee the Presidential Medal of Freedom, albeit posthumously. In the citation, Clinton noted, “He embodied the decent center. For him, civility was not simply a matter of personal manners. He believed it was essential to the preservation of our democratic system” (Wikipedia). We could sure use that kind of civility in Washington now, don’t you think?
Appropriately, Chafee’s final public speech took place at the National Cathedral in Washington, where he spoke in celebration of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 50th anniversary, saying:
”Naysayers may ask, What difference does saving one train station or post office truly make in the future of America? My response is this: Preservation is not just about preserving brick and mortar, lintel and beam. It is about the quality of life, and the possibility of a bright future. Carl Sandburg expressed the danger of losing touch with our past when he said, ‘If America forgets where she came from, if people lose sight of what brought them along, then will begin the rot and dissolution.’ ” (quoted in the NYT obituary)
We would all do well to remember those wise words. I’m sure I wouldn’t have agreed with John Chafee on many issues, but that’s just the point. We should be able to work together despite our differences.
Let’s not lose sight of what brought us along!
Sources: Wikipedia, The New York Times, and James Brady’s The Coldest War. Photo from Pintarest.