Thursday, 1 April 2010

When We Had Smart Men

There is a curious thing about living in the DC/Arlington area...there are four-star obituaries written about great or near-great men. We are like a magnet for figures of American history.

This week, William G. Arey Jr died, at age 92.

He's not a big huge figure in our history. He'd likely laugh over his exploits.

He's a guy who came out of Shelby, NC and graduated in 1939 from University of North Carolina. He was a journalist by trade...but he had a very interesting contribution to American history.

At some point in the late 1950s....Mr. Arey was sent to be a member of the US embassy in Panama. This was a period of great turmoil. There was anger and hostility by the locals over the American gringos and their control of the Panama Canal Zone.

Having spent three years in Panama....there are fascinating things about Panamanians and the old canal zone. Every Panamanian had this idea that the Zone, the Canal, and the operations...should be run by Panamanians....and there would be huge profits from this operation for everyone to share wealth.

Where did this sharing of the wealth idea come from? University professors and political parties. Naturally....the thrust of the enthusiasm all came from students.

So around 1960, this peak of student participation occurred. Just inside the Canal Zone area...was a street where the US flag was predominately displayed. US political figures had gotten themselves into this whole ordering that only the US flag could be displayed. If an effort to be neutral had been shown...a great deal of hostility could have been avoided.

So along comes William G. Arey. He ends up spending $14.85 and buys 60 Panamanian and US flags to hang on the lamp posts along this main drag. The Panamanian students sat there and were amazed by this effort. The protests? They just kinda simmered. For the price of $14.85...William G. Arey basically puts a huge protest effort down.

In the 1930s...when you attended wasn't so much to "get smart", as it was to attain knowledge and then know how to use it. This is one of the great losses in American education that we simply sell a degree to a bunch of kids....without the ideas of how to manipulate and use vast knowledge to our benefit.

Realizing what he was up against...and how to easily outpace the students and the political figures at hand...William G. Arey simply used $14.85 to buy some flags and reset the political stage.

You can't find guys like this today.