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  • Reverend James Squire

Uvalde and the Red Bandana

Photo by Steve Johnson


I always showed my Ethics class the Story of the Red Bandana and to have the class understand how courage and positive ethical decisions are made unlike the revelations that were revealed yesterday about the police and others waiting one hour before going in to save the children at Uvalde where many lives could have been saved if they reacted quicker with more courage.


The Red Bandana movie is the story of Wells Crowther who on 9/11 went up and down 20 flights of stairs repeatedly in the South Tower of the World Trade Center to save people on those floors. What did he have that the police in Uvalde didn’t have? The Uvalde police lacked courage, but there is little doubt in my mind that if Wells were there, he would have gone in without waiting for additional safety nets and the absence of leadership to save many children. All the theory in the world can’t replace action as a response. What did Wells have that the Uvalde police didn’t have? I wanted my students to know that there are two types of people in the world, one allows life to happen to them and the other who actively attempts, whatever the problem is, to fix it. Yesterday I was with a doctor who said, “Rev. I am a fixer not a waiter.” As a spine surgeon who does high risk procedures, he bases is actions in his high-risk profession with that mindset. He credits a great deal of his response to being a college football player. I indicated recently that my mindset is to make decisions based on what I am seeing that is standing right in front of me. I too am a fixer and not a waiter.


I don’t know much about the background of the Uvalde police, as the report on the worst failure of law enforcement was released. The report focused on their lack of leadership and a fast response to fix the situation. They also cited a lack of courage.


A set of values shaped the courage of Wells and others. The ingredients of his life contained a role as a lacrosse and ice hockey player at Boston College and in high school, a period of time when he was a volunteer fireman. He was pursuing a career as a trader on Wall Street. All of this contributed to the underpinning of his courage. Wall Street actively recruits athletes because they tend to attack a problem with a goal to fix it. They wouldn’t last a day if they just stared at their screen all day and allowed the market forces to dominate them.


The underpinnings of courage to meet the moment with active courage and leadership not to  allow life to control you are found in all walks of life. Leonard Bernstein is someone who would have quickly responded to the situation at Uvalde. His gift of musical genius didn’t let life just happen to him. No matter what the situation, he responded with the courage to bring new sounds to the public. Of course, we see this graphically with the survivors of the Holocaust who thought that Nazis may try to take away their humanity but they couldn’t take away their thoughts of freedom as a response. Who could forget the words of Anne Frank who would not allow the Nazis to change her thinking about others. “it’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals as they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I believe, in spite of everything, that people are good at heart.” She never let life change her courageous view of others. However, Wells already had made a decision to become a fireman.


One of my models for not letting life happen to him is John McCain. He defiantly and creatively remained a prisoner of war until his comrades would be free as well. He had a heritage of courageous people in his family and knew some of their stories.  I know that he wouldn’t have waited to go in a timely manner to rescue the children in Uvalde.


Yesterday I listened to the former ambassador from Israel to the United States comment after Netanyahu spoke representing his right-wing faction that there would be no two-state solution. The deal would have made Saudi Arabia take a larger role in helping each with peace keeping.

We know that there is much that is similar to Netanyahu and Trump. Both are trying to stay out of jail.


But let’s look at today and the biggest global ethical issues. Perhaps it is a key question that the candidates for the Office of President should have to answer. President Zelensky has already answered the Uvalde question. He would go in. Right now, the Hamas and Israel War has put the United States in a passive position as 23,000 Palestinians plus have been killed and their institutions are in rubble. The Red Cross just indicated that the Gaza area is a famine zone. Already the barbaric attacks on October 7 have not yielded a return of all the hostages.


I believe that what is hurting Biden in the polls is that he is being seen as someone who has allowed life to happen to him even though the facts do not support that misperception. That is why the Republicans are hanging on so dearly to not solving the border crisis because that will be their sledge hammer to convince people that Biden is not actively trying to solve it even though it has been a problem for several different administrations.


Right now, the questions about foreign policy have been framed in an isolationist versus globalist framework. Here is the question for all the candidates: What would you do to change our approach from waiting to see what would happen in the Middle East by being courageous in the nature of our response? (An option is not I would not be there in the first place.) What would you do if you were a police officer at Uvalde when the children were killed? But more important, what parts of your history have shaped you to be a person of courage? Trump, Biden, DeSantis, and Haley, what would you have done at Uvalde? That is what the question should be for all of these campaigns instead of the attacks and dog whistles of racism. The key question is not only what would you do but what in your life has made you a person of courage. Without an answer that is satisfactory, you don’t get the red bandana that Wells Crowther had in his pocket every day of his life from the time of his boyhood to the moment that they found the red bandana in the rubble of 9/11 to finally identify him for his family.


In essence leadership is not leadership without courage and being aware of what in your life helped you to develop that gift. In my opinion that is first of all characteristics that a President should have. It is the bedrock of being a gifted politician. There are many profiles of courage that we could point out, as President Kennedy pointed out in his book by that title. That question should be asked of all the politicos in Washington as well. There are too few red bandanas on the politicians’ words and actions facing today’s problem. We hear more of what they are against as opposed to what they are for. We cannot control what happens to us by what life serves up, but we have total control of how we respond, and in that response is courage. Are we people who let life happen to us with little response or are we people who respond to challenges, large and small, with courage?


Who will be the fixer in our high-risk world?

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