Now the big story in West Virginia has gone where we knew it would: blame. The business, the Sago Mine, is being made out to be the culprit, yea, the murderer of the 12 miners. The mine has been “cited for hundreds of federal safety violations since it opened in 1999, government records show.” Thus reports USAToday. The headlilne implicates the company, as well as the government–which knew of the violations, but had not shut down the mine.
But Bush already called for an investigation, so at least the White House is “clear.” The federal government wants to be cleared, too. Even the media wants to be cleared of the egg on it’s face for getting the story wrong about the miners, saying they were alive when they were dead.
AP collage of erroneous headlines.
The one under-rated fact in the story, however, is that mining is dangerous. Always has been, always will be. All miners know that. Sago was a dangerous place. They knew that. Mining is a hazardous profession. This creates the opportunity for intense blame when anything goes wrong. But it’s almost like a volunteer soldier blaming the White House if he gets shot in battle.
People need jobs. People need money to live on. People work at what job they can find. A dangerous job, with good pay, who can refuse?
An unsafe mine? Is there a safe battlefield?
The blame is already coming in, heavily, on George Bush. “The Bush administration in Washington has been undercutting mine safety, says a Charleston Gazette editorial. Blogger Jordon Barab posted a lengthy malignment of the government yesterday. Scott Schields posts, “How Bush Failed the Sago 13.” A Pittsburgh editorial says, “No More Sagos,” and quotes totals of violations and fines imposed on Sago. “In 2005 the mine had 208 citations and $24,000 in fines from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, a huge leap from the 68 citations and $9,515 in fines in 2004. The only encouragement is that ICG took over the mine from its previous owner in November, and there were fewer citations in the fourth quarter (46) than in the third (70).”
This isn’t a new kind of story. Four years ago, the Quecreek mine in Pennsylvania saw an incident that almost ended the lives of miners. The story turned out to be what the government knew, and what the mine bosses knew. Why, it all could have been prevented.
But the real issue is necessity. Does a man have to take the mining job? Circumstancial pressure is enormous. But, legally, does he have to take the job? Mining, again, is dangerous. It is in flux, always. The more mining that is done in a mine, the more unstable it becomes, and the more need for renewed precautions. It is in a state of flux, continually. Violations? Steady, and especially depending on the nature of the individual mine. Mining is not a cut and dried business. Levels of danger are constant, from less to greater, usually greater.
There’s a wonderful old black & white movie called The Miracle of the Bells (1948) with Fred MacMurry and Alida Vali. It’s about a poor coal miner’s daughter who became a actress, and at the point of success, came down with lung disease, and died. It’s a heart-breaker, but the film, like many others, shows the nature of mining towns, and the hazards concomitant.
Alida Valli, the first “coal miner’s daughter” in Hollywood.
The business cannot be made perfectly safe. Ever. That’s why in the ancient days, mining was a form of punishment. In Justinian’s Institutes IV. xviii. 1-2, we find that “condemnation to the mines” was one of four forms of capital punishement.
But today, mining can be a good paying job. A man willing to take the risk is conpensated. Yet, the way the story is told in today’s liberalized media, the miner’s risk is never to be a liability to him. It is the fault of someone else, a priori. And with the legal profession being what it is to day, there is institutionalized blame available to the miner. Add that to insurance companies, and we have quite a different picture than in the ancient Roman days. The miner is to be rewarded for mining. We’ve come a long way, baby–in every way except preventing danger in the profession of mining. Some things simply will never change. Mining is dangerous. So is firefighting, police work, soldiering, and just driving. Life is dangerous. Let’s not demean the glory of living with the legalities of life and institutionalized cajoling. Let’s not rob a man of his courage in attempts to protect from the very challenges that demand it. Mining is apparently necessary, and we can be grateful that men are willing to work the mines. They shold be treated well, indeed. But let’s not make pansies out of them to suit some political theory.