History is full of individuals who made decisions in their eras which changed the course of human destinies. We sometimes forget we make decisions each day that do the same in our perhaps smaller, but important avenues of life. History is an inspiring subject to study and think about because we really get to know people across time the decisions they made, and how those things impact our lives in the present.
A lot of times we make decisions which we are confident in, but we still don’t know how things are going to turn out. Sometimes, we have the best information possible and still make mistakes. If we are fortunate, we have time to look back and see areas where we might have acted differently. Yet, this is not a given. We make decisions based on our own ideas of which things are moral and ethical. We try to filter between what are the right things to do and the wrong directions to take.
History is replete with “gutsy” decisions based on these, and other, parameters and we are fortunate to be able to look at some of them.
In the 1920s, the best female swimmer in the world gave up her amateur status in order to try and swim the English Channel. Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to do so. Giving up her amateur status was not easy, but she needed to “go pro” in order to fund her shot at the channel.
President Franklin Roosevelt decided to “walk” to the rostrum to give his speech in the House of Representatives chamber the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. A victim of polio and wearing a brace made of 10 pounds of steel on each leg, he willed himself to the speaker’s stand with the help of his son. He didn’t walk, but shuffled with all of his might. His actions gave strength to the country.
The four chaplains who gave up their life jackets to others the night in early 1943 when the USS Dorchester was struck by a German torpedo represents another courageous and gutsy decision. Four lives were saved, which affect many families to this day.
The following year, one of the greatest leaders in world history, General Dwight Eisenhower, made the decision to begin the D-Day landings in France. When told there was going to be a break in the bad weather, he simply said, “OK, let’s go.” The invasion opened up a second front against Germany and thus began the liberation of France.
President Harry Truman made a difficult call in another war when he relieved Gen. Douglas MacArthur from commanding all United Nations’ forces in Korea in April of 1954. The general’s ratings were high, yet he was insubordinate toward the president. The public did not completely like Truman’s actions at the time, but it proved to be the right thing to do.
Toward the successful close of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, President George H.W. Bush decided not to use coalition troops to take the city of Baghdad. Militarily, the opportunity was there. Bush knew liberating Kuwait was the mission and recognized that taking Iraq’s capital would upset the Arab countries who supporting the Gulf War.
Later, his son, President George W. Bush made the decision to combat the spread of AIDs in Africa and committed the resources of the United States and the free world in fighting the disease. The historian, Jon Meacham, dedicated an episode on his Hope for History podcast to Bush’s actions.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, a young securities trader in the South Tower of the World Trade Center chose to assist others who needed help after a plane struck the tower. Welles Crowther is credited with saving at least 12 people, giving up his life in the process.
All of these singular stories are large. All of us could list our own personal moments when a gutsy decision has either paid off immediately or been seen as helpful and right over time. Some of those decisions have prevented people from danger or perhaps spurred them on to some kind of victory.
It is so easy in our time to think of the essential workers during the pandemic. They make gutsy decisions to simply be at work each day battling an unseen foe and caring for patients.
Perhaps the gutsiest decision we can ever make is to do just that: to care.
From the doctors and nurses to the teachers, administrators and counselors, and to the people who toil and make decisions daily to keep the semblance of normalcy, we salute you.
We appreciate the power of your decisions and, like many of the above-mentioned decision makers of their time, for providing a courageous road map for the rest of us.
Brent Tomberlin is a social studies instructor at South Caldwell High School and Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.