A Tale of Two Role Models: Which Will We Choose?

By | July 10, 2014 | 0 Comments

It is often said that young people today have few positive role models. This is partly true. Many boys grow up without fathers, then go to schools with mainly women teachers and principals. Many schools have kicked out ROTC and the Boy Scouts. So for male role models, some boys are left with the neighborhood gang leader. In addition, film, TV, and music stars often provide poor role models for both girls and boys. Still, it is incorrect to say that young people lack positive role models.         douglass
Frederick Douglass was born a slave. He never knew his father. His mother died when he was seven. Most of the blacks he knew were slaves, and many of the whites he knew were slave owners. Clearly, in regard to role models, he was less fortunate than today’s kids.
But a white woman befriended him and taught him to read. She gave him two books – a Bible, and a book of the speeches of great American and British statesmen. Douglass learned about Moses, who was commanded by God to lead His people from slavery to freedom. He learned about Jefferson, the chief author of our Declaration of Independence, which proclaims that all men are endowed by their Creator with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Influenced by these role models – neither of whom was black like him – Douglass escaped to the North, became an influential newspaper editor, and was a major spokesman for the abolition of slavery. He had few role models in his personal life, but he chose others for himself.
We can ask ourselves, “Who are my role models? What character traits do they exemplify? How can I follow in their footsteps? Like Frederick Douglass, how can I choose good role models for myself?”
To illustrate my point, let me tell you about two men named Chamberlain. Then let me ask you which of the two you would choose as your role model:

Joshua

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was a professor at Bowdoin College in Maine. After the outbreak of the Civil War, he joined the Union Army. Though he had no formal military training, he was recognized for his leadership ability and courage. His crowning achievement occurred in 1863 at Gettysburg, where he commanded the 20th Maine regiment. He was assigned to hold Little Round Top, the hill that anchored the extreme left of the Union line, as shown in the outstanding film “Gettysburg.”
Chamberlain and his regiment withstood repeated Confederate attacks, which – had they succeeded – would have flanked the whole Union line and resulted in a Union defeat. Then the way would have been clear for the Confederate Army to take Washington and end the Civil War with the Union dissolved, but slavery intact.
At one point, Chamberlain’s regiment was almost out of ammunition and severely reduced by casualties. They could not withstand another Confederate attack, which was being prepared at the foot of the hill. He concluded that they could not hold their position, but they also could not abandon it. So he chose the only remaining option – he attacked. He ordered a bayonet charge down the hill, which dispirited the Confederates and broke up their last attempt to flank the Union line.
Chamberlain’s courage in adversity saved the day – and the Union. For his achievement, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. At war’s end, he was a major general. He returned to Bowdoin College, where he taught every subject except mathematics, which endears him to me even more. Eventually he became president of the college. He died at 85, probably of late effects of the six wounds he had received fighting for freedom.
That was one Chamberlain. Here is the other:

Neville

Neville Chamberlain was a British politician who came from a distinguished family. Like his father and older half-brother, he was elected to Parliament. After holding various posts, he was named prime minister in 1937, in the midst of the deepening crisis with Nazi Germany.
His response to the crisis was seen by some as waiting till Britain became stronger, but it could also be said that he was waiting till Germany became stronger. He gave up the Royal Navy bases in Ireland, allowing freer rein to German submarines.
Chamberlain’s crowning achievement occurred in 1938 at Munich. He met with Hitler to discuss the fate of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain referred to “…a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know little.” Perhaps he should have learned more, before he put himself in charge of deciding the fate of an independent nation and millions of people.
At Munich, Hitler demanded that Germany annex part of Czechoslovakia. In return, Hitler promised that this was his last territorial demand. Chamberlain believed Hitler’s assurances and agreed to this “land for peace” deal. He gave up real land in return for false promises of peace. To use Churchill’s words, he fed others to the crocodile, hoping it would eat him last.
Chamberlain returned to Britain waving a piece of paper that he famously declared would bring “peace for our time.” But “our time” proved to be quite short. Soon Hitler ingested the rest of Czechoslovakia, proving himself a liar and Chamberlain a fool. World War II broke out a year later, in 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland.
Chamberlain remained prime minister briefly, but was replaced by Churchill in 1940, when Germany invaded the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. It became clear to everyone that a terrible war had begun, so people called for a leader, not merely a politician. Chamberlain died of cancer later that year. “But he meant well” is not an inscription that we would want on our tombstone.
Which Chamberlain appeals to you as a role model?
● The one who fought and bled for freedom, or the one who was willing to give up other people’s freedom in a vain attempt to save his own?
● The one who died an honored patriot and enemy of slavery, or the one who died a discredited politician and appeaser of tyrants?
● The one who was motivated by ethical principles, or the one who was motivated by expediency?
● The one who saw that freedom of the “other” was as precious as his own, or the one who knew little about the “other,” and cared less.
● The one who was an idealist, yet saw the world as it is, or the one who posed as a realist, yet was easily deceived by a lying tyrant?
● The one who went through a terrible war and left the world a better place, or the one who tried in vain to avoid a war and left the world a worse place?
We have many excellent role models, living and dead, to choose from. But like Frederick Douglass, it is up to us to choose wisely. Like him, our freedom depends on our choice. Which of the Chamberlains do you choose? But you must choose. If you attempt not to choose, you are really choosing Neville – the one who thought he was a realist, but who naively gave away the lives and freedom of others in return for empty promises. Neville Chamberlain is the default setting. If you don’t choose, that’s what you get, and what you become.
If you hope to remain aloof in the conflict with extremist Muslims, you are in fact emulating Neville Chamberlain. If you try to stand aside in the struggles of humanity, you may think of yourself as a wise lover of peace, but, like him, you are merely a foolish enabler of evil.
Well, who will it be – Joshua or Neville?
Contact: dstol@prodigy.net. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.
www.stolinsky.com

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