The Value of an Anniversary

Thirty years ago today was a Monday. After track practice, Dan O’ Hara and I went to Al Oliver’s house to help kill what was left of a keg of Molson’s Golden Ale from Al’s St. Patrick’s Day party the previous Saturday. It was warm, flat and skunky, but we pushed through, as returning a partial keg was unthinkable.

Navigating in heavy weather, Dan and I piled into his dad’s silver ’75 Honda cvcc, picked up subs at the SubYard and headed for my house, where my dad had a challenge.

“You’ve been drinking.”

“No, I haven’t.”

“What day is it?”

“The nineteenth.” (Ha!)

“… of January.” (D’oh!) “Uh, I mean March.”


I’m not sure that’s worth remembering, much less commemorating, except to remind me that 30 years ago, I was a young and unserious (perhaps reckless) high school senior. My dad, I’m sure, was wishing I’d wise up and get serious. I got a big dose of seriousness – and so did everyone else – nine days later when the Unit 2 nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island experienced a partial core melted down.

It was a sobering kick in the pants for an about-to-be-18-year-old only somewhat mediated in the following years by the realization that Three Mile Island went a long way toward ending the construction of nuclear electric generating plants in the U.S.

Sad to report, the nuclear industry is hoping that 30 years later, their shabby history has been forgotten as they try to peddle a new generation of nukes under the falsehood of combating global warming.

Ten years later, I was a still-young environmentalist working in Washington, DC when, on March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska and dumped 11 million gallons of crude oil.

Twenty years after that sorry day, Exxon has yet to compensate any of the thousands of people – entire communities – whose lives and livelihoods were destroyed that day. By 1991, Exxon declared that the spill had been “cleaned up,” but experts tell us that in the best of circumstances, a maximum of 15 percent of ocean-spilled oil is ever “cleaned up.”

Meanwhile 20 percent of the plaintiffs who sued Exxon for the damage the sill did them, have now died. That’s a solemn meditation for a 20th anniversary – 20 percent of the injured died with no compensation, only 15 percent of the oil treated.

What got me thinking about my high school misadventures, however, are the seniors in the class of 2003, because today is the sixth anniversary of the foolish and deadly invasion of Iraq.

Yes, Three Mile Island was a jarring wake-up for me, but it was still somewhat far away. Not geographically, but in terms of how much control I could have over it. I was still able to pretend it was an “adult thing.”

Wars are different. They’re fought by the young. If you go to one of the many web sites that list Americans killed in Iraq and read the ages, you’ll see most of them don’t remember Three Mile Island. The Exxon Valdez spill is a hazy memory at best. The number of dead today stands at 4,259.

Barack Obama – who’s three months younger than I – has promised to get us out of Iraq, even as he sinks us deeper into Afghanistan. The all-volunteer Army, which had struggled to fulfill its quotas not so long ago, is now aided by the sagging economy.

There is value in anniversaries. They remind of us lessons we’ve learned or offer the chance to learn a lesson we’ve missed. Next year, we say, things will be better.

© 2009, Mark Floegel

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