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Anno Domini: The lost art of doing it yourself
September 15, 2011 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis
Long ago, I was attending Nebraska Western College. That in itself dates me. I was the managing editor for the student newspaper, the Spectator. That year, we decided to publish a special edition on the history of the college. They used to have a football team, and one of their players, Dick “Night Train” Lane, made it to Hall of Fame status in the NFL.

While doing research, I came across a photo I’ll always remember. It pictured a group of students with feet on shovels, breaking ground for the new college on the hill. The caption read, “We’ll build it ourselves.”

Of course a lot of government funding was also involved, but the attitude was – there’s a need, so we’ll build it.

There sure was a need. The old Scottsbluff Junior College, at the time located in what would later become Centennial Park, was infamous for its cramped quarters and sagging floors.
So I got to wondering, what ever became of that “We’ll build it ourselves” attitude? From the late-1800s to the mid-1900s, America had a “can do” mind set. In the midst of the Great Depression, it took New York construction workers just over a year to erect the city’s tallest structure at the time – the Empire State Building.

Fast forward to 2011. It’s been 10 years since a group of spiral-eyed crazy terrorists destroyed New York’s World Trade Center. (Sorry, but that day wasn’t a “great tragedy,” it was an act of war.) And 10 years later, the hole in the ground remains.

I would have liked to see new towers under construction, say, in January 2002. It would have been a statement to American exceptionalism, that we would come back stronger than ever from such an outrageous and cowardly attack.

A short aside: Back in 2001, a friend told me he took comfort in knowing those responsible for the murder and mayhem have since been relocated to a warmer climate – and it isn’t Gitmo.
It took another 10 years, but we found 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and punched his ticket to the Stygian ferry.

We used to have a “can do” attitude. Now it’s become a “no can do” attitude. For one thing, you can’t pick up a wrench in most areas without going through the union and also filling out a ream of government paperwork. It’s been estimated that 10 percent of our nation’s gross domestic product is tied up in compliance with government paperwork and regulation.

More importantly to the World Trade Center site, I think the hole in the ground is still there because of political correctness, or what should more accurately be called cultural Marxism. If you want a real eye opener, just type “Frankfurt School” into your favorite search engine.

Lots of people would like to think we were all united after the jihadist declaration of war on 9/11. But people were pointing fingers and shouting accusations at each other even before the dust had settled. One online blowhard said we had it coming because we kept butting into the world’s business.

So when did “can do” go by the wayside? I’m not really sure, but I do remember the early 1960s when President Kennedy challenged America to send a man to the moon and bring him back by the end of the decade. And after his assassination, we were on a mission for John.

In 1969, we made it to the moon and back and made several return visits since. In the process, the microcircuit technology used in the space program became the calculators, and later the computers and cell phones, we all take for granted.

Even as government becomes more and more a nanny state, I think most of us would still roll up our sleeves and solve our own problems, if only the government would leave us alone.

Author and talk show host Mark Steyn recalled such an incident. Back in 2003, a New Hampshire state highway inspector condemned one of the bridges in Mark’s hometown. It wasn’t a large bridge, so while the town applied for funding from the state capital to replace the structure, they built a temporary bridge just downriver from the condemned one.

Six years later, the temporary bridge had worn out, the estimated replacement cost had doubled to about $665,000, and still no state funding. The town might have applied for stimulus funding from the feds, but then a new bridge might have been built by say, 2018, when the cost would have doubled again.

The town board had enough. In a colorful turn of a phrase, one of them said, “Screw the state. Let’s do it ourselves.”

So they hired a local contractor to build a replacement that would pass all the state safety codes. It cost them $30,000. Meanwhile, the worn-out temporary bridge still waits for state funding.
Now I wonder if some scold from the state government has since ordered the town to remove the offending new structure, citing it wasn’t built with the blessing of the state.

Steyn, originally from Canada, remembered a different time in history: “When something goes wrong, a European demands to know what the government’s going to do about it. An American does it himself.”

At least that’s how it used to be. But I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet. Excellence is an option that’s always renewable. All it takes is a refusal to let the government turn us into subjects rather than citizens. It takes an attitude that says, “We’ll build it ourselves.”
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