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Gary Cooper, in the saddle (Getty Images)

Dying, The Greatest Generation, Courage And Integrity

by Stuart Kauffman
Aug 13, 2012

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Stuart Kauffman

My wife of 45 years knows she is probably dying of a serious disease. She faces this with, of course, fear, but also with stunning generosity. I love and admire her humanity and integrity.

We are watching Ken Burns' powerful documentary The War together. It's about World War II. I was born in September 1939 and my first memories include the war and its aftermath. My older cousins, Norman and Bob Kauffman, flew B-29 bombers.

We say we honor our fallen, often it's just lip service. I say to that Greatest Generation, with the deepest admiration, "Thank you for your courage and integrity."

America has changed over my 72 years. Following World War II, Gary Cooper personified in High Noon what may rightfully be called, in the language of that day, the American Man. His wife, a Quaker, is profoundly opposed to violence. She is equally opposed to Cooper taking up arms against the three thugs threatening his town. Yet, after living long with this moral dilemma, Cooper picks up his Colt and blows the three thugs away. His character displays courage and integrity.

Now we have The Terminator and its ilk, adventure movies filled with meaningless violence. The honor and integrity embodied by Cooper have been blown away.

At the same time, our education system below the university level has faded. We're not at the top of the global class list. Is this for lack of money spent, or altered values? Many of the best students in our graduate schools come from overseas. Why?

We live with an elite whose interests are protected at all costs. Their banks were bailed out starting in 2008, when the mortgage-backed securities and credit-default swaps they constructed ringed the financial world in a web of bad bets backed by insufficient capital to cover losses. Profits were big before the collapse and, thanks to the bailouts, are big again. Now we also know there has been cheating on the important LIBOR index.

The siren call of big money means that many of the best and brightest in each graduating class at Harvard — and other elite schools — rush to Wall Street when they might otherwise move on to make useful things somewhere else.

Mitt Romney, who may well become president, flip flops at whim, running from policies like the healthcare framework he pioneered at governor of Massachusetts. Courage and integrity? You be the judge.

The Supreme Court, in the "Citizens United" decision, has enabled rivers of money to silently flow into our electoral process without identifying for voters from where the cash has originated. Transparency? Integrity? Courage? Generosity? You be the judge.

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