Dig Your Heels In

by Matt Soriano | 1/14/03 6:00am

When 74-year-old Korean War veteran J.C. Adams saw two armed robbers in his convenience store for the umpteenth time, he grabbed his 12-gauge with one hand and his walker with the other. He ponderously moved to an appropriate vantage point, took careful aim, and fired both barrels. With one fearsome blast, Mr. Adams saved the well-fed police of DeKalb County, Georgia the burden of pursuit and detention of two suspects for armed robbery. Indeed, for one suspect, the judicial process was further "fast-tracked" -- the shopkeeper's buckshot made a very convincing argument for the death penalty.

Charlton Heston would be proud.

This is the second time Mr. Adams has ventilated a miscreant. I guess you could say he's a habitual defender. What can we give him after the third abortive robbery? A little "hat trick" ceremony from the police department? If he gets it, we should put it on national TV -- for God's sake, the old guy's got better aim than Mario Lemieux!

Here's my personal opinion on what old J.C. deserves: a newly tailored Army uniform and an honorarium for every speech he gives to America's schoolchildren. He's not a hero -- because to say that would identify him with qualities that shouldn't be unique. Instead, we should identify J.C. Adams' uncommon valor with the common virtue of American courage. Mr. Adams' drive to repel his enemies was far greater than one might expect of a man of his age and infirmity. Yet he did so, and in that he exemplifies a theme of America's existence and the fuel for our continuing economic and ideological success.

Consider the U.S. Constitution. In 1789, our Founding Fathers tossed the conventional knowledge of government into an 18th century trash bin. They decided to start a new society predicated first on freedom and next on all of the functions of government. Until then each nation had been identified by a sovereign whose subjects sat in awe of him, whose very existence and grudgingly granted freedoms were subject to his authority and his glory. Instead, our Constitution reads "We the people" and goes on to restrain the federal government's power to disarm, detain, and otherwise oppress its citizens. The good men from Virginia embraced an untested system whose promise was so great that it justified repudiation of the lessons of millennia.

Without our boundless courage backed by far-reaching optimism, our bumptious little colony -- and its incorrigible citizens -- would never have made our social experiment a success. Throughout history, our heroes have proven that the writing on the wall is never indelible. In 1862, Abraham Lincoln knew that peaceful coexistence with a slaveholding South was impossible and took the far-reaching decision to emancipate. In December 1941, the loss of the entire fleet at Pearl Harbor, the rampage of the Axis through France and Russia, and the horrendous losses suffered by British convoys in the Atlantic still did not convince Roosevelt to abandon his dream of Four Freedoms across the world. And from 1954 to 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. showed the world the paradoxical power of nonviolent resistance.

To that end, American business is still the most creative in the world. We have led almost all of the trends in development -- from industrialization to "downsizing" to finance and finally post-industrial society. Our leadership is a natural result of American courage. We're not calcified into the government-subsidized "partnership" model of Europe and Japan where risk avoidance seems paranoiac. For the most part, "cowboy" schemes are celebrated and risk is accepted and accounted for. Here ideas find capital without interference. And hence the world looks to the United States for its continuous revolution.

For nearly three centuries America has leveraged tremendous fortitude and tremendous courage into a society more successful than any on earth. We have been blessed by a common optimism -- recognizing that the orthodoxy and "safe solutions" are more often than not no solution at all. J.C. Adams' actions should have struck a chord in every American to reject the forces of negativity. Lord knows there's a lot of temptation out there for 2003. It's easy to submit to North Korea's nuclear fait accompli, to the economic slump, and to Russia and France's Iraqi realpolitik. Yet danger is matched by opportunity; the last gasps of dictatorship in Pyongyang and Baghdad beckon a newer, safer and freer world above. America has never failed when it has faced danger. There's a new world out there which requires strong will and iron constitution to discover. Let's keep our eye on the prize.