- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Some passengers on the Queen Mary 2, the largest and most luxurious ship afloat, are threatening to remain on the ship when it is scheduled to drop them off in Rio de Janeiro after a voyage from Ft. Lauderdale. A propeller misfunction delayed the ship after its departure, and the Cunard cruise line had to drop the three Caribbean ports from its itinerary.

Passengers are understandably disappointed and upset, and Cunard has offered to refund half the price paid to every passenger. A minority of passengers are reportedly unwilling to accept this offer, and want all their money back or won’t leave the ship.

In the interests of full disclosure, I need to note here that I have been a frequent passenger on Cunard Lines, both as a paying customer and as a lecturer (no pay, but free passage). I have not yet sailed on the Queen Mary 2, but many years ago I did make the trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Rio de Janeiro on Cunard’s Sagafjord. We did stop at most of the scheduled ports, but rough seas prevented us from landing on Devil’s Island. We were having such a good time at sea, that no one thought of protesting, much less starting a mutiny.

Since I don’t know yet all the facts, I don’t want to take sides between Cunard and the disgruntled passengers.

But I must say that the analogy of this incident with the war in Iraq is too irresistable to pass without notation.

In this analogy, the ship of the United States has long since sailed into Middle Eastern waters. After intervention in Iraq, the United States runs into bad weather. Ship propellers are damaged. Whether it was purely caused by nature or the captain and his crew, or a combination of both, is not yet fully known, but the ship now seems to have in sights its destination. All the passengers have been inconvenienced. A small number have died. No refunds are possible, of course, but the captain contends that a great reward in the form of improved national security and expanded democracy in the world will result after the present voyage. A minority of the sailors say it isn’t enough. They want the ship to turn around, a short distance from the destination, and sail all the way home.

We live in the richest and most powerful nation on Earth. In the past 100 years, we have provided to our inhabitants increasing and unprecedented wealth, education, security, legal rights and technologies that enable citizens to live much longer, better and freer.

One hundred years ago, the United States was a country with a small upper class that dominated industry and society. A growing middle class was beginning to emerge. Most Americans were poor and struggling to find jobs, and when they had jobs they also had unspeakable working conditions, low pay and long hours. They faced unfairness and prejudice everywhere. The technologies of that era were so primitive in terms of communication, transportation, consumer utility, health care and lifespan that any attempt to compare then and now in terms of even adjusted dollar amounts is absurd.

Needless to say, not everyone today in America has everything they want. Not everyone has as much as everyone else. Not everyone makes the same pay or has the same kind of job. Problems persist. Governments procrastinate on important issues, such as Social Security and pension-fund reform. Some persons commit crimes. Government officials make mistakes, and sometimes a few of them break the law. The world is a dangerous and violent place. We not only have rivals, but we have enemies. Change, remedy and reform come slowly.

It would be nice to visit every port of call in the voyage of our lives, but that’s not the way the world works. Sometimes nature intervenes with hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and pandemics.

Sometimes our human shortcomings produce temporary dictators and totalitarian states.

Sometimes, corruption and incompetencedisrupt even democratic societies.

Is the solution to jump ship or cause a mutiny? There are always those who are perpetually opposed to everything around them — their fellow citizens, their society, their government. They are entitled to their opinion, but they don’t have the right to sink the ship.

In the 1930s, there were many Republicans who resisted the changes needed to meet the emergency of the Depression and the external threats from European fascism. To them, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a liar and a traitor to his class. In the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, most Americans joined gladly in the effort to defeat totalitarianism from Germany, Japan and, later Soviet Russia. In the first decade of this new century, however, we have some Democrats who consider President George W. Bush a liar, and who resist any and all policies that he proposes.

Roosevelt made many mistakes, and some of his decisions in World War II were wrong. President Bush has made mistakes, and some of the war in Iraq has been mismanaged. We could say exactly the same about President Lincoln in the previous century. Are we sorry that the Union was preserved? Are we sorry that we defeated Hitler and caused the Soviet totalitarian empire to collapse? Should we be sorry that we are resisting totalitarian terrorism and promoting democracy in the world?

It’s time to recall where we are, where we have been and where we are going. Unlike the Queen Mary 2, no one really has the luxury of getting off the ship when they want or getting a refund (tax cuts nothwithstanding).

We do have the right to change the captain at designated intervals (and the crew) but unless we act like adults, and not like children, we will fail to notice the harmless-appearing tips of those huge and dangerous glacial fragments now drifting down from the previously frozen polar regions of the North.

Barry Casselman writes about national politics for Preludium News Service.

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