Author Archive

October 31, 2011

Flight 93: American Heroes

by Nathan Hershey

[Evie’s article on this topic: Flight 93: Acknowledging Diversity ]

I am very interested in recording my thoughts about Flight 93.  It was a response by thirty-three airline passengers and seven crew members to one of the terrorist attacks made on September 11, 2001.  The 9/11 hijackings were conducted by terrorists targeting American aircrafts.  I want to focus on the attack made on United Airlines Flight 93.  Unlike the other three 9/11 stories, the behavior of this flight’s forty passengers and crew thwarted these terrorists’ ultimate goals from being accomplished.  These goals were the destruction of a major building in Washington, DC, and the killing of hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans.

The resistance by the flight’s passengers and crew should be viewed as a story of American heroism.  The passengers included two individuals of other nationalities, but all of the passengers and crew banded together in an act of unusual bravery.  It was an unplanned engagement between ordinary people and enemy forces that evolved into a fierce struggle for control of the aircraft.  After learning of the attacks made on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and discussing their options for about half an hour, the passengers and crew reached a unanimous consensus that they should confront the hijackers and attempt to regain control of the flight.  The passengers and crew were victorious, and brought down the plane in a field near the small town of Shanksville in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, about eighty miles southeast of Pittsburgh.  It is not known with absolute certainty where the terrorists intended to fly the plane, but many suspect they would have tried to fly it into either the White House or the United States Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

Our knowledge of their bravery is based on cockpit voice recordings and phone calls made by passengers and crew shortly before the plane crash, while they were debating whether to engage with the hijackers, and during the engagement itself.  One of the passengers, Todd Beamer, has become famous for his statement, “Let’s roll,” before the men and women stormed into the cockpit and overpowered the hijackers.  We have no way of knowing how many more lives would have been lost that day if these brave individuals had not thus intervened in the hijackers’ plans to fly the plane into their targeted building.

The story attests to the human capacity for courage and compassion, in this case the courage and compassion of the passengers and crew who fought and were successful in averting a greater disaster, even though they all lost their lives.  If they had not regained control of the flight, they were doomed, but their actions suggest the possibility of compassion that extended beyond self-interest.  Sandy Dahl, the wife of Flight 93’s Captain Jason Dahl, called their actions a “selfless sacrifice.”  The story plays a substantial role in demonstrating how ordinary people can rise to the level of achieving an important success in a larger battle, even at the cost of their lives.

A national memorial has been constructed near the area where the plane went down.  The family members of the passengers and crew, as well as emergency first responders, community members who lived nearby the crash site, and other concerned Americans have left tens of thousands of personal tributes at this location.  These items include pictures, flowers, hats, patches, stickers, poems, medals, and other memorabilia.  A film tribute was released in 2006, called United 93, which is a fact-based historical drama that relates the events that took place that fateful day on Flight 93.  Books have also been written on the subject, including Jere Longman’s Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back.

Looking back on this event, I wonder how many Americans believe they would have behaved with the same vigor and valor as did the heroes of Flight 93.  Surely no one on the plane that day entertained the illusion that they would emerge from the situation alive if they made no attempt to gain control of the flight.  In the interest of possibly saving their own lives as well as others’, they had to take action.

But it requires a good deal of strength to confront terrorists who are willing to die for their cause.  As it turned out, the passengers and crew were willing to risk death for their own cause.  Although that risk became a reality, and everyone aboard the plane died, the hijackers’ targeted Americans in DC were saved.  Who among us would have done the same?  Perhaps anyone who has learned the story of Flight 93 should consider how he or she would have behaved if they had been on Flight 93 that day.


Contributions have been made in the honor of those who lost their lives in the Flight 93 battle.  This has been done through various funds and other memorials, including the Captain Jason Dahl Scholarship Fund and LeRoy Homer Foundation, which provide scholarships to students interested in pursuing careers in aviation.  There also exists a peer support network called the September 11th Families’ Association.  This organization unites the families of 9/11 victims through newsletters, events, tours, and volunteer work.

– Nat Hershey

20th Century Man

October 3, 2011

Obama: “Peacemaker” at Harvard Law School Basketball Courts

by Nathan Hershey

[Alicia’s article on this topic: Peacemaking: Consensus or Submission?]

One of the things that caught my eye when first reading about Barack Obama was a story about how Obama behaved when he was a student at Harvard Law School.  The story, published when Obama was candidate for president, in the HLS newspaper, The Harvard Law Record, said that he was a “peacemaker” at the basketball courts there. 

I was and am interested in this trait Obama has for several reasons.  I have followed politics closely since my youth and have run in at least one primary.  Today, my interests in the Democratic Party, in particular, continue, as I hold a position on the board of the 14th Ward Democratic Club of Pittsburgh.  I also have a perspective on Obama’s on-court “peacemaking” from the basketball end.  When I was a student at Harvard Law School in the early 50s, I was quite active in basketball, both in the intramurals and in pickup games.  I am proud to say that my team, in my first year, reached the finals, where we lost; in my third year, I put together a team that won the intramural championships. 

What I read indicated that Obama was a skilled basketball player at Harvard Law School and was, from all accounts, far superior to me at my best, in addition to being noted as a peacemaker on the court.  Many people know that there is a considerable amount of physical contact in the playing of basketball games, particularly when there’s no official.  If a couple of people were “duking it out,” Obama was active in bringing hostilities to a close.

I have no opposition to bringing pushing, shoving, punching to a close on the basketball court but at the same time, I know that some of it is friction that develops from physical contact during a play and that the disputes that arise rarely last long or become dangerous.  It struck me that I couldn’t picture any of the people I knew at Harvard playing such a peacemaker role as has been depicted in descriptions of President Obama as a student there.

 It occurred to me that Obama, then still only a candidate for the presidency, might not have the capacity to be as tough or decisive on matters in the political sphere.  Frankly, I would have preferred Hillary Clinton to have been nominated because many voters acknowledge her ability to deal with problems in her personal life and see her as scrappy.  I can’t picture Barrack Obama being much of a scrapper, from what I have learned about him. 

I think that other presidents, such as Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt, among other famous Democratic politicians, have been scrappers.  While President Roosevelt couldn’t be a physical scrapper, he certainly knew when to scrap, and how to fight politically for his agenda.  Certainly, Harry Truman had built a reputation as being feisty.  He cast a bigger shadow over the political world than he was expected to do when he was elected in 1948, after having succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt as vice president.  In fact, in the 1948 campaign, it was a four-way contest for the presidency but there were only two serious candidates – Truman among them, opposite the Republican Dewey.

When I was at Harvard Law School, the idea of being scrappy was accepted as part of the atmosphere.  I see President Obama, the “peacemaker,” not scrapping on many political issues that he should act on more seriously as President.  He has given greater sway or acceptance to some of the Republicans with whom he has been contesting on matters since he was elected and to a much greater extent since the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 election.  As the Democrats and Republicans are gearing up for the 2012 election, we see the Republicans making a very aggressive push to make Obama a one-term president and seeming to interfere with or block almost anything that Obama seeks.  I believe they will oppose him on any issue just because they want to drive him from the White House.  There is only a little more than a year until the 2012 presidential election and the potential Republican candidates have already surfaced, while it is the expectation that Obama will be the Democratic presidential candidate.

My personal view is that it would be better for the Democrats to substitute an individual with an evident fighting spirit.  While I can’t say very much about Joe Biden, it strikes me that he has a background that makes him appear scrappier than many other Democrats who might be considered as potential substitutes for Obama.  Perhaps it would be good for the president to say, “I will be a one-term president and I will hold the party together while Joe Biden and two or three other people seek the presidential nomination from the Democratic Party.”  I am curious as to how many Democrats feel as I do, wanting to have a fighting president rather than a “peacemaker” who appears to yield to and cooperate with the opposition in order to end contention.

In raising this issue, there may be many Democratic operatives whom I may not be pleasing, but I am sure I am not alone in my sentiment.  When Truman attacked the Republicans, people in the audience used to say, “Give ‘em hell, Harry!”  I think “Give ‘em hell, Barack!” does not have the same ring, but we should be using that language anyway.

– Nat Hershey

20th Century Man

August 5, 2011

Truth May Not be the Whole Truth, But that Kind of Truth May be Best

by Nathan Hershey

[Alicia’s article on this topic: “Is it Safe to be Honest?“]

Truth and honesty are essential to individuals successfully interacting with others, where they have mutual involvement and recognizing that they may not necessarily agree on everything, or a good bit, or an important element or set of elements within their interaction or relationship. The fact is that there’s often a difference in a sense of empowerment between people, where one individual assumes that he or she has, and deserves to have, greater power than others in the particular area of interaction.

Truth is something that people see or behold. That which one may see as a truth, everlasting or limited, others may see as just the opposite of the truth, or as just a variation of the truth. Examples would be helpful. Sometimes a person’s perception of the truth is based on value judgments that arise from the experiences of the individual, including parental influences and influences of institutions such as schools. In other instances, people’s views and opinions and desires have been brought about by other kinds of experiences, such as a serious medical condition or service in the military. In short, there are many influences upon us in our relationship to the world, as well as our relationship in a close family situation.

The question of what constitutes truth involves a concept of accuracy, but also it suggests that sometimes it is better, in a particular situation, not to expect or attempt to force another to be completely truthful. Consider a very simple example.

Assume that a couple is dressing to go out for a period of time, with another couple – perhaps for a meal or to attend some kind of performance. One asks the other how he or she looks. If you were giving an answer to that, as an individual, you may have concern that your expressions might turn out to be a little bit hurtful if you say to the individual that he or she would look better in another attire, or that the individual perhaps should make some other alteration in the manner in which they appear. People put considerable stock in how they are appraised by people with whom they have a close relationship. While this is not to say that people should not tell the truth, there is a question as to how much truth or accuracy is necessary in a social situation.

I think that some people may feel that they have the responsibility, and the ability, to go further in being critical, assuming that they are objective individuals and therefore they must give the truth as they perceive it or be very close to the absolute truth. Others may be sensitive to the thoughts or feelings of the people with whom they interact, and therefore moderate their language and actions in view of the personality or interests of others, and others’ ability to accept certain kinds of critical comments. It certainly is true, in my opinion, in my experience, that women and men adjust their views partly in view of the gender of the other person. Sometimes, a person may express their self more critically than they need to, other times they may be more forgiving. The person requesting the statement or information may be seeking to hear something critical so that they may feel that they can trust the individual – their partner, perhaps – to answer a question honestly.

When individuals are asked to give their opinions, with regard to some behavior, the question comes up – how frank should people be? Do they have to be concerned with upsetting the individual, if they are very frank? Does it lay the basis for injury or destruction of a particular relationship because one is speaking very forthrightly and critically? Do we have, as individuals, the responsibility to tell others what they should do and say? It may be good to have a relationship with each other where both persons can feel that they can be frank and relatively explicit with each other. With people who are more in the realm of strangers, it may be considered discreet or tactful not to say too much about the other’s conduct as long as there is no danger or threat created by the behavior of the other individual.

Now, one other thing related to this is, if a fellow and a young woman break up, how much of the reasons for this change should be shared with the friends of the members of the couple? My view would be that one should not pass on information that has been guarded in a personal relationship, unless there is a potential for threat or danger to another individual. One might say the Hershey Rule would be: “If the fellow or the woman is going to interact with another person in the general social group, let the new member of the group find out for himself or herself the information that may be relevant to why the change occurred – if they want to explore it.” I think that there’s a great deal of information that would be kept between two of a couple and not shared with others unless there is a danger to life, finances or other things that would be considered very important. I might say that, looking at my own situation over the course of my life, I didn’t feel that it was anybody’s business what I learned about a person of the opposite sex, and if someone wanted to learn something about that person they should get to know that person their self.

There is personal life and there is broader life. I think people should be pretty restrained in the information that they pass out, and if they do pass information to others it should be shared with the understanding, or at least the firm belief that there’s an understanding, that the information won’t be shared with third or fourth, or 58th, parties.

– Nathan Hershey

20th Century Man

July 6, 2011


by Nathan Hershey

Alicia and I started talking about the term “Native American” – what does that phrase mean?  When the term “Native American” came up and I thought about it, it seemed to me that there could be several possible meanings.

Today, in 2011, instead of using the term “Indians” to refer to descendents of the members of tribes who lived here before the European colonization of what is now the United States, this use of the term has become unpopular, or politically incorrect – one term for these people is “Native Americans.”  That may have been a change for the better or a change for the worse, but it certainly contributes to the confusion, with regard to the meaning of those two words together.  If you look at the first generation who were “native” (born here), you’ll see a very diverse cross-section of people.

A “Native American” can be someone who is born in the United States if you use the word “America” to mean the United States and use the word “native” as a modifier to mean “by place of birth or origin” (according to the American Heritage Dictionary, 1973).  How is “America” distinguished from “the United States?”  You could argue that a Native American would be someone from North or South America because they would be people who could be defined or described as Americans.

Over time, various people have sought to better define who they believe Americans are, by virtue of place of birth, primarily.  A
person who is born on the land which is now the United States would be, presumptively, a citizen of the U.S. and eligible to hold the office of the presidency, under U.S. law.  “American” is used as a modifier for various foods, products and people, and could serve as a descriptor for almost anything (consider American cheese).

Is it "American?" Is it "cheese?"

Now we can take a look at people, for example, who come from central Europe, like Hungaria or Bulgaria.  They came and then they had children who were born in the United States.  Would we look at these children as Native Americans?  If they’re “born in the USA,” as Bruce Springsteen said, could we not refer to them as Native Americans?

Yet some people, for example the Irish, often prefer their original land, in their case Ireland, as their place of identity, based in part on their psyche.  They’re not born in Ireland, but they maintain a strong cultural link.  Even if people would be second or third-generation Americans by birth, some still want to be seen as connected with Ireland, even though the family first left the shores of Ireland a century or more ago.

Because of borders changing in Europe multiple times since the United States was created, some immigrants to the U.S. may have lived in three countries before coming to the U.S.  What term should we use to identify these people?

Also, we find that sometimes a descriptor is adopted by some people, indicating their religion as a modifier in their identity, as well as the nation that their parents left when they came to the United States.  For example, I have heard conversation, from time to time, that some Jews place serious focus on where in Europe, or elsewhere, that their family members came from.  Even though they were born in the United States, they might regard themselves as Hungarian Jews or German Jews
or some other kind of Jews to designate some location in a foreign country to which they link themselves, at least in some psychological sense.

One’s identifier may be, from different people’s views, either positive or negative, or even disparaging in the minds of others.  Two people could have the same identifying background, but choose the words they want to use as their identifiers quite differently.

– Nathan Hershey

20th Century Man

June 6, 2011

Finances Determine Even Educational Choices

by Nathan Hershey

While growing up in the 1930s, it was the goal of many young people to have the opportunity to attend college. Before I started college, my mother started attending college at night in 1940, in her 40s. Higher education became a much more important step in personal development and was considered increasingly necessary to enhance career opportunities.

The idea of college being the target of most young people did not come about, as far as I recall, until after World War II with the returning military personnel, many of whom qualified for higher education financial assistance because of the GI bill. The veterans were reentering civilian life, with the opportunity to have money to support college schooling and some attending living expenses. I was not in that category because I was too young to have served during WWII. By the time World War II ended in 1945, I was fairly advanced in high school.

After high school, my parents had sufficient funds to allow me to attend New York University without having to find full work opportunities (although I did work two summers during my college career). Tuition at NYU was $150 per year. The public colleges, such as Brooklyn, City, Queens and Hunter, were very inexpensive. These were institutions without dormitories – nuts and bolts colleges. They were good colleges with libraries, etc, but most of their students lived in the city.

There were some private religious colleges, such as St. John’s and Fordham, as well as some non-religious private colleges, such as NYU, which were also affordable for many lower-middle-class families.  The religious colleges were more likely to have dorms connected to and administered by the school.

Queens College, created in the late 1930s, was located in an attractive area in the borough of Queens. For young people who lived in Queens or others who could access decent transportation to Queens, it was considered a choice opportunity. Residents of Queens were wealthier, so the girls really wanted to go there. Tuition was the same level as the other city colleges in NYC.

While the amounts of tuition I’m describing may seem very small, the purchasing power of a dollar was almost unimaginable to people today. Bus and subway fare was a nickel, and there was uproar when fare was raised to a dime.

One of the questions that I have is: What is the range of education opportunities that young people have in the 21st century, particularly at this time? My sense is that, because of the high cost of higher education, unlike the situation that I had when I was of college age, many young people must borrow substantial amounts in order to support their college education. Many have more than five-figure debt by the time they leave college. For most parents, the understanding is that they will not be able to fully, or even substantially, finance their childrens’ education because of the cost and their middle-class income limitations.

It should also be noted that college education is not necessarily the end of formal education; therefore we now find young people creating further debt for graduate school and the cost of personal needs while attending school. I received a full tuition scholarship from Harvard for my second year of law school. It was $600. Sixty years later, in 2011, one year’s tuition at Harvard Law School is $45,450. I would like to better understand how many young people confront these potential costs that they would incur if they decide to further their education to the extent that I have mentioned.

Perhaps is it also possible for a young person to delay or avoid following the step-by-step approach of higher education by working to the extent possible, using and developing skills in the work force, instead of in additional school.

Alicia chose to end her college education, partly to avoid incurring massive debt. I wonder, if Alicia had had the finances necessary to continue attending college, whether she would have developed differently in terms of skills, interests and the decision of how to spend her available time. If she was a member of a family that could provide her with a considerable amount of financial assistance, without any obligations to return it at some future time, she may have continued attending college, and she may not have developed the capabilities she now possesses.

– Nathan Hershey

20th Century Man

May 9, 2011

Unions Are Not His Cup of Tea

by Nathan Hershey

An author can use her choice of words to create a picture which may please him or her but be considered by a more objective person as bias.  A fine example to demonstrate this is a column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sunday, April 24, in which Jack Kelly uses his choice of words to create a picture that suggests criminal behavior by unions.

In his piece, Mr. Kelly chooses to refer to the union leaders as “union bosses.”  Anyone with a grain of sense realizes that the choice of words here is meant to establish a negative view of the union leaders.  Mr. Kelly does not recognize that union leaders are elected by the members of the union and, while not all are ideal leaders, they are the choices of the union members who put them in office by a participatory process.

I don’t know whether Mr. Kelly is a member of a union, but my guess is that unions are anathema to him, perhaps because they generally take positions contrary to his political, economic and social beliefs.  Kelly is less a reporter than a promoter of his personal ideas.  I wonder how many readers of the Post-Gazette find Kelly to be a writer they look forward to reading on a regular basis.

– Nathan Hershey

20th Century Man