Saturday, June 07, 2008

a tale of two blue-blooded cowboys

Having just finished reading Song of Haiti, I can say that everything I wrote on the subject below holds true, and will only add that Larry and Gwen Mellon were great Americans whose work should be better known and more widely honored... Not merely by the Choate alumnae association, but on the American street, on our stamps and our money. We should all be proud to stand on a hilltop and scream, "at least one over-privileged American did the right thing!"

It's interesting to contrast Larry Mellon with George W. Bush, who was born with a similar set of privileges. Both men were products of wealthy northeastern families; both men were drawn to the rugged simplicity of the western cowboy lifestyle as a sort of antidote to the culture of the northeastern establishment.

But the similarities end there. After fulfilling his cowboy phase, Mellon turned the page, studied tropical medicine, and spent over thirty years improving the lives of the people of Haiti. In addition to building a great hospital, he used his ranching knowledge to build wells and irrigation systems throughout the Artibonite Valley. Bush by contrast more or less grew up a cowboy, then applied a certain brand of cowboy thinking to national and international politics.

It's shocking that Mellon's contributions are not better known. Let's hope that every time someone is crazy enough to want to name an airport or freeway after George W. Bush, it gets named instead after Larimer Mellon, the real national hero.


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