by Brendan Beery
It can’t be long before this meme emerges: Americans had to save France … again.
By all accounts, were it not for Americans aboard a French train with a terrorist among its passengers, a spectacular attack might have gotten underway. But Americans were there, and they were military, to boot. On seeing a man with a handgun and an AK47, one American said to another, “Let’s go.” (One can’t help but recall the two words that captured the singular heroism of Americans on 9-11: “Let’s roll.”)
The Americans disarmed the terrorist and morphed his AK47 from firearm into blunt instrument. One of the Americans, obviously with expert training, unloaded the weapons after ensuring that no other perpetrators were on board. To their credit, French authorities have been quick to cite American heroism as the lead cause of averted catastrophe.
The question arises whether it makes any sense to feel pride in the acts of others just because they’re Americans. But let me depart from my usual rational cynicism here and suggest that we do just that. We Americans are many things, and some of those things are ugly. But we should not look past the nobility of Americanism that accompanies its thornier implications.
We tend, collectively, toward a certain simplicity of purpose. In this, we can seem dogged, narcissistic, arrogant, even brutish. But for all this, one thing most of us can also claim is a species of bad-assery that is uniquely ours. Time and time again, when the fates have required that somebody do something, Americans have leapt over quivering onlookers and taken their posts. In a global historical sense, when one has said that “the cavalry has arrived,” one has often meant, “The Americans are here.”
What stands between most of us Americans and the display of public bravery put on by our compatriots on board that train is merely chance. Public courage requires circumstances that call for public courage, and those circumstances are rare. But there is something about being American that requires selflessness and sacrifice when those circumstances appear. There is something inside us that is driven to protect.
At a time when we are so frequently and so publicly embarrassed by the wrongheadedness of the noisy wingnuts among us, let’s enjoy the refreshing spectacle of strong-headedness as an American virtue.