This week marks the 51st anniversary of the My Lai massacre, in which Charlie Company killed over 500 unarmed civilians in Vietnam, mostly women, children, and old men. I was ten years old, son of a Korean War veteran, when it occurred, but a teenager in high school before it became public due to the now well-known coverup, and, like the rest of America, struggled to understand what had happened and why. Honor and order not to mention lives had been lost. I can remember where I was, when I tried to make sense of something far bigger than me or my teenage years.
Here we are, over a half century later, reeling from a 28-year old white-supremacist terrorist who killed at least 50 people in a massacre in New Zealand designed for the Internet Age and an FAA which became the last—not the first—government aviation agency in the world to determine a pattern in the second crash of a Boeing 737 Max 8, which have collectively claimed over 300 lives. And in the middle of this, an admissions scandal which has already arrested more than 50 people and is said to likely ensnare more than 700 when all is said and done. Stanford, Georgetown, Yale, the University of Texas, USC, Wake Forest, the list goes on. Brand names all.
If there was anything we could count on in a more innocent age, it was order. Fair was fair. Of course, there were the aberrations to the norm —the Charles Van Doren $64,000 Quiz Show scandal, the murder of eight student nurses, and the shooting from the Texas Bell Tower— that immediately come to mind, but we quickly returned to normal. That’s what all the outrage was for. Now the aberrations are the norm.
The most trite big story of the week now feels like the admissions scandal. No lives were lost, just dignity, fairness, and our faith in “The American Way,” which lies at the foundation of our voluntary systems known as capitalism and democracy. Without this faith in fundamental fairness we quickly pass a tipping point where we only think of the self and not the republic. Are we there yet?
When our phones and email lit up this week from reporters on the admissions scandal, it was mostly about “What can the parents who committed these sins do?” LEVICK Vice president Josh Kroon weighed in below in The Wrap with his wise thoughts (he also weighed in on Boeing as well in the second story). For most of us in the crisis business, our answer can be reduced to a pretty simple one for the parents: “You cannot talk your way out of something you acted your way into.” Go away, be quiet, and atone.
But then one reporter asked the far more difficult question: “What should the affected students do?” Now that’s a far harder answer. After all, what parent willingly sews a Scarlet Letter on their child’s fleece?
I feel badly for these young adults, who will suffer the indignity of their parents’ greed for quite some time. The schools will weigh in next with expelling or re-evaluating most of them so many will have to start over. Even if the students took time off or dropped out, they would be risking college acceptance anywhere. Universities at any level will be taking a risk accepting them.
Recall that when Icarus flew too close to the sun, it was because he failed to heed his father, Daedalus’, command to fly at a safe distance. This time, it is the parents who forced their children to fly into the sun.
They are, at the end of the day, children of privilege and will be fine. But for the rest of us, Horatio Alger is on life support.
We are left to wonder yet again, after a week when honor, order, and lives were lost, when will we return to the norm?