Although Vulcan would experience more than forty more years of life after it was over, Vulcan’s Centennial Celebration in 1952 was both a milestone and a high point in its history. The “capstone” of the ceremonies was the keynote speech by Vulcan’s President, Chester H. “Chet” Warrington, my grandfather. He put a wrap on the speech in this way:
One hundred years is a long time, both in the span of human lives and of business. Every, or any business, which reaches that age owes its accomplishments not merely to sound management, but to people, forces and circumstances that have made such vitality and growth possible.
We have in mind tonight —
- OUR EMPLOYEES — whose team work and harmonious relationship with management are outstanding.
- OUR CUSTOMERS — in the vast construction industry including over one hundred distributors of construction equipment in the United States as well as many overseas representatives.
- OUR SUPPLIERS — from whom we buy materials, machine tools, and the thousand of other things we need to operate our plant and produce for our customers.
- THE COMMUNITY — in which our plant is located, that provides the workers we must have in times of peace and war.
- THE BLESSINGS — of the country in which we live. Only in America with its free economy, free society, and unmatched standards of living can there be industries like ours.
To these we make humble acknowledgment on our one hundred anniversary, and because of them, we look with confidence into the next century of our history.
The last bullet point has always intrigued me. He linked a “free economy, free society and unmatched standard of living” together. People on the left are wont to say that the second is the only thing that matters and that the first two are bad on our environment, psyche, etc. The latter is not as new as we think: Chet noted earlier that, in reaction to the fruits of the advance of technology, people said, “We got a bit bored with success. Where, doubters asked, had it gotten us.”
People on the right are wont to say that the cause of the third is the first two. But it strikes me that the cause and effect may be more complicated. Is the prosperity simply a product of the way government and society is organized, or does prosperity lead to and support the freedom of society and economy alike? The answer is both, but it’s probably wise to back up and look at a few things, especially in view of our war with COVID-19.
Many in Chet’s audience were survivors of the Spanish Flu of 1918, including Chet himself, his wife Myrtle, her brother Walter Daspit and his wife Etta. Many were also survivors of two world wars or at least the Second: my father Henry and his brother-in-law P.T. Grove had served in the military, and of course those on the home front like my Aunt Dot and my mother sacrificed too (her brother did not come back.) Topped with the Great Depression, they knew what adversity was and how to deal with it. Some was ongoing: one guest wrote Chet afterwards that “Illness as a result of an epidemic in this and many other cities in Ohio…”
If there’s one thing that has changed in the American psyche in the nearly seventy years since that gathering, it’s our attitude toward adversity. ADD Chet said that we were “bored with success,” but more precisely we have been lulled into a false sense of security about its fruits. We think we can have it all, that our resources are unlimited and that someone needs to snap to it and instantly solve our problems. The people at that meeting knew that this idea was false: we do not.
Now we’re facing COVID-19. It’s a stealthy virus, with a relatively long gestation period and unpredictable consequences when (and if) it finally blows up on someone. We have been indoctrinated with the concept of “settled science,” but the science is anything but settled on this: it’s a moving target, both in how it behaves and how we might deal with it. Mixed with a distasteful political situation and a crashing economy, we have the mess we’re in.
We’re told that we must beat the virus at whatever cost to the economy that might come. But the warning from the past is that it’s not a clean “either-or” situation. The prosperous economy (by standards of the past) we and other nations have developed is what equips this war, just as the “Arsenal of Democracy” financed and equipped our military to win World War II. If we sacrifice one to win the other, we’ll probably end up losing both, and that’s especially true with the debt levels with which we have burdened ourselves.
The decisions we’ll have to make will be complicated and painful, and unfortunately done in a political environment where the participants have adopted simplistic moral systems where they claim that their “virtue signalling” is superior to the values (many based religiously) to those who came before them. That claim is false, even when compared with people (like my own forebears) who weren’t particularly religious. Our ancestors knew that we didn’t live in a perfect world where every problem could be fixed at the wave of a hand; we don’t.
COVID-19 is a reality check, and it’s going to take some time for the implications of that reality check to sink in. If in the midst of it all we turn to radical solutions, the benefits of those lessons may well be lost in our own panic and enthusiasm. Given that we have been drilled to let our emotions guide our path, that disaster is certainly possible. It’s up to us to avoid that.