Who’ll Sing of Forgotten Hero?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE -

Among the shared pe­cu­liar­i­ties of or­ga­ni­za­tions re­li­gious and po­lit­i­cal is the ten­dency of their shep­herds to pro­tect their sheep from pos­si­ble chal­lenges to their in­cul­cated be­lief in be­lief. For many of us ig­no­rance truly is bliss—re­gard­less of the cost to our­selves and our prog­eny, not to say the land that gave us birth.

Most of us can­not say how some 83 mil­lion acres of Saint Lu­cia’s seabed came to be un­der the con­trol of a con­tro­ver­sial Den­ver, Colorado oil­man named Jack Gryn­berg. And while a few of us may have heard over the Satur­day night din at our fa­vorite wa­ter­ing hole that Mr. Gryn­berg’s RSM has sued our gov­ern­ment for breach of con­tract—and de­manded dam­ages in the pre­pos­ter­ous amount of US$500 mil­lion— we ap­pear quite con­tent with not know­ing how we ar­rived be­fore the In­ter­na­tional Cen­ter for Set­tle­ment of In­vest­ment Dis­putes.

Ask your next-door neigh­bor or your BBB (best booze buddy) what he or she knows about Fren­well, Rochamel, the Vi­sion Com­mis­sion or IMPACS and chances are you’ll be in­vited to switch to a sub­ject not as de­mand­ing on their vir­gin cere­bella.

Over the week­end, while the gover­nor gen­eral was dec­o­rat­ing cer­tain fel­low Saint Lu­cians for ser­vices al­legedly ren­dered, I dared to ask some of our de­clared best brains about the process that had de­liv­ered this year’s crop of hon­orees. None of them sat­is­fied my cu­rios­ity.

So now, hav­ing en­gaged in some determined prospect­ing, this is what I came up with: the Or­der of Na­tional He­roes was es­tab­lished in Fe­bru­ary 2000, gov­erned by the Na­tional Hon­ors and Awards Act of 1986, ap­par­ently re­tooled in 2008.

Re­port­edly housed at the gover­nor gen­eral’s of­fi­cial res­i­dence, the Chancery of Na­tional Awards and Hon­ors in­vites the par­tic­u­larly na­tion­al­is­tic among us to avail our­selves of nom­i­na­tion forms from ad­ver­tised lo­ca­tions and to sub­mit to a Na­tional He­roes Com­mis­sion the names and con­tri­bu­tions of cit­i­zens we con­sider de­serv­ing of spe­cial hon­ors.

Af­ter care­fully vet­ting all sub­mis­sions, the com­mis­sion sends its list of cho­sen can­di­dates to the gover­nor gen­eral. The cur­rent com­mis­sion com­prises nine in­di­vid­u­als jointly ap­pointed by the prime min­is­ter, the leader of the op­po­si­tion and the gover­nor gen­eral. It will come as no sur­prise that at least four mem­bers of the com­mis­sion are also well known politi­cians.

Com­ment­ing on its ap­point­ment nearly three years ago, the prime min­is­ter said: “This is part of our col­lec­tive de­sire to re­shape our po­lit­i­cal land­scape, mov­ing away from the di­vi­sive­ness which has de­struc­tively dom­i­nated the op­er­a­tions of na­tional in­sti­tu­tions to­wards a spirit of in­clu­sive­ness and due recog­ni­tion.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Hon­ors and Awards Act, the Or­der of Na­tional Hero may be con­ferred “upon any per­son who was born in Saint Lu­cia or who at the time of his or her death was a cit­i­zen of Saint Lu­cia.”

More proof that ours is a dead he­roes’ so­ci­ety? Not if we ig­nore the Act in fa­vor of the usu­ally un­am­bigu­ous Ja­dia JnP ierre-Em­manuel’s Face­book page, where it is stated that Na­tional Hero sta­tus can be con­ferred on “any cit­i­zen living or dead.” (Doubt­less with good rea­son, Da Jade ne­glected to say whether such cit­i­zen must be a na­tive Saint Lu­cian.)

The Na­tional Hero must have given ser­vice that has “al­tered the course of the his­tory of Saint Lu­cia; given ser­vice to Saint Lu­cia which has been ex­em­pli­fied by vi­sion­ary and pi­o­neer­ing lead­er­ship, ex­tra­or­di­nary achieve­ments or at­tain­ments of the high­est ex­cel­lence, and which has re­dounded to the honor of Saint Lu­cia; or through his or her heroic ex­ploits or sac­ri­fices con­trib­uted to the im­prove­ment of the eco­nomic and so­cial con­di­tions of Saint Lu­cia and Saint Lu­cians gen­er­ally.”

Judg­ing by the above, it would seem the mis­cre­ants qual­ify for Na­tional Hero sta­tus that had turned Wil­liam Peter Boule­vard into an open sewer on the evening of 18 July 1979; that had en­cour­aged red-eyed hooli­gans to smash and loot ev­ery show win­dow in the vicin­ity and carry away mer­chan­dise worth mil­lions of dol­lars; that ear­lier had as­saulted speak­ers at a post-elec­tions United Work­ers Party rally; that had gone on to trans­mo­grify a House ses­sion into a low-rent rumshop brawl and for­ever al­tered par­lia­men­tary be­hav­ior—not to men­tion “the course of the his­tory of Saint Lu­cia.”

My in­ves­ti­ga­tions re­vealed that this time around no names were sub­mit­ted to the com­mit­tee set up for the spe­cific pur­pose of re­ceiv­ing and pro­cess­ing nom­i­na­tions for the Na­tional Hero award. I am fur­ther re­li­ably in­formed that word from the mount had di­rected the group to sub­mit two names and that is pre­cisely what it did, with no out­side in­put: Sir John Comp­ton and Sir Ge­orge Charles, both de­ceased.

Now, I am not about to quib­ble here over el­i­gi­bil­ity, though some may have good rea­son to. What con­cerns me is, yes, the process that de­liv­ered the ac­knowl­edged two lo­cal po­lit­i­cal heavy­weights. That, and my con­vic­tion that do­ing well the job one was hired to do hardly mer­its a hero’s lau­rel— es­pe­cially if you hap­pen to be a politi­cian and con­se­quently not with­out heavy bag­gage in­con­sis­tent with the uni­ver­sal idea of hero­ism.

Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower and John McCain were Amer­i­can he­roes long be­fore they be­came politi­cians. They earned their ac­co­lades on the bat­tle­field, fight­ing their coun­try’s enemies, real and imag­ined. Gov­ern­ment lead­ers Comp­ton and Charles have both been duly re­warded with knight­hoods and other hon­ors rel­a­tive to their con­tri­bu­tions in of­fice—their im­pact­ful mis­judg­ments notwith­stand­ing. But there is an­other man, yes, a born Saint Lu­cian, for a short time a politi­cian, whose name im­me­di­ately comes to mind when­ever I find my­self, at home or abroad, dis­cussing true hero­ism. In­deed, oth­ers who knew him well in­sist he should long ago have been can­on­ized.

He de­parted this life the day be­fore Nel­son Man­dela landed at Vigie Air­port on a short visit ar­ranged by Prime Min­is­ter Comp­ton shortly be­fore his United Work­ers Party lost the 1997 gen­eral elec­tions to Kenny An­thony and his Saint Lu­cia Labour Party. Even be­fore he had re­boarded his plane (en-route to the UK, if mem­ory serves) our gov­ern­ment had re­named a road in honor of the re­cently elected first black pres­i­dent of South Africa.

Con­ceiv­ably, the de­parted na­tive son had taken to heart the words of his Scrip­tural name­sake: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” On the re­mem­bered Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, he had one time too many put the sur­vival of oth­ers be­fore his own.

He had at­tempted to res­cue from the re­lent­less grip of the no­to­ri­ous rip­tides at Grand Anse a woman and her young child, vis­it­ing white non-na­tion­als, for those who con­sider such de­tails im­por­tant! Some­how he

had man­aged to pull the child to safety but not its mother. As for her would-be res­cuer, they dis­ap­peared to­gether be­neath the waves. Sev­eral hours passed be­fore their bod­ies were re­trieved.

An ar­ti­cle fea­tur­ing Man­dela’s visit that I wrote for the July 4, 1998 is­sue of this news­pa­per, subti­tled “Na­tional Hon­ors Should be Re­served for Con­tri­bu­tions Over and Be­yond the Call of Duty,” ended with th­ese words: “Now that we know the dif­fer­ence be­tween what Man­dela stands for and the self ad­ver­tis­ers, let us profit the op­por­tu­nity, for a con­struc­tive change, to de­clare a true na­tional hero.

“Few out­side of Babon­neau had heard of him be­fore the 1997 gen­eral elec­tions. But those who knew him had al­ways con­sid­ered him spe­cial; some­one who by his daily ac­tions demon­strated more love for oth­ers than he saved for him­self. He may not have been as prac­ticed in his dic­tion as oth­ers I could name; cer­tainly he was never in a hurry to spout off on TV. Rel­a­tively lit­tle was writ­ten about him in the news­pa­pers, for he shunned pub­lic­ity. Ah, but he was per­haps the best loved of our cur­rent politi­cians. May we not soon for­get this gen­uine na­tional hero!”

On July 11, this news­pa­per fea­tured a front-page pho­to­graph of the de­ceased in his cas­ket as he was car­ried out of Babon­neau’s Good Shep­herd Catholic Church to the hearse that would trans­port him to his fi­nal des­ti­na­tion.

The STAR’s ban­ner head­line read: “Hero Laid to Rest!”

Among the pall­bear­ers was a tear-soaked, red-shirted, fairly ath­letic Kenny An­thony. Min­utes ear­lier, barely able to con­tain him­self, the prime min­is­ter had said of his late par­lia­men­tary col­league: “There is no love more spe­cial than one has for his neigh­bor.” Lousy gram­mar, yes, but al­ways it’s the thought that counts. Over and over he re­ferred to the dearly de­parted as a true hero.

“When he took off his clothes and went into the tur­bu­lent, treach­er­ous wa­ters,” the prime min­is­ter went on, “he did not know who he was go­ing to save. It turned out to be two vis­i­tors to our shores.”

He cor­rectly de­scribed the res­cue at­tempt that went awry as “a demon­stra­tion of love that is pow­er­ful, color blind, not tainted by the trauma and com­pe­ti­tion of pol­i­tics.”

He promised, in the pres­ence of the griev­ing young widow, to ded­i­cate to her hus­band’s mem­ory a hero’s park lo­cated near the gov­ern­ment’s wa­ter­front of­fices. Alas, that was the last time the prime min­is­ter men­tioned pub­licly the name Ken­neth John.

No sooner had his body been in­terred than his party brethren for­got about him. There are no images of Ken­neth John to be found at any of the is­land’s schools and other in­sti­tu­tions; no sto­ries are told in his honor; none of our po­ets has been in­spired to put into rhyme that fa­tal Wed­nes­day at Grand Anse Beach. The name is never cited of the man who gave his life so two to­tal strangers might live.

It’s as if taxi op­er­a­tor Ken­neth John had never ex­isted.

It took fif­teen years af­ter the estab­lish­ment of the Or­der of Na­tional Hero be­fore a wor­thy re­cip­i­ent could be iden­ti­fied; two, ac­tu­ally. And while one was named John, he was not Ken­neth John, who pre­sum­ably had never given “out­stand­ing ser­vice to Saint Lu­cia, ex­em­pli­fied by vi­sion­ary and pi­o­neer­ing lead­er­ship which has re­dounded to the honor of Saint Lu­cia.”

All Ken­neth John ever did was get him­self drowned try­ing to res­cue two strangers at a danger­ous lo­cal beach with­out life­guards. The hon­ored gov­ern­ment lead­ers, on the other hand, had, by re­cent and con­ve­nient mea­sure, done what they were paid to do. And that, for some, was de­serv­ing of hero sta­tus.

Be­sides, in his In­de­pen­dence Day ad­dress the prime min­is­ter, with his straight­est face in place, had de­clared the time fi­nally right to raise to the sta­tus of he­roes “two found­ing fa­thers in our quest for de­col­o­niza­tion and in­de­pen­dence.”

Alas, at last Sun­day’s investiture cer­e­mony, Sir John’s widow, Lady Jan­ice, went of­fi­cially un­ac­knowl­edged. As if to pour acid into her wound, at the same time that the Or­der of Na­tional Hero was posthu­mously be­ing be­stowed on the “fa­ther of the na­tion” this is what ap­peared on Ja­dia JnPierre Em­manuel’s fa­mous Face­book page:

“Sir John! Sir John! Sir John! Why didn’t you re­form the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem sooner? You are re­spon­si­ble for all this ig­no­rance be­ing boldly dis­played in Saint Lu­cia. So many peo­ple were de­nied ed­u­ca­tion and we all must suf­fer as a re­sult. I am mad at you, Papa. Why didn’t you have the fore­sight to know that no min­i­mum ed­u­ca­tion and skill re­quire­ments would be nec­es­sary to join Face­book and en­gage in po­lit­i­cal, na­tional, so­cial dis­course? You did this! Now peo­ple have tools with­out skills and still they think they are ex­perts!”

As usual, Da Jade gets the last word!

The eyes have it! Left to right, a weep­ing Prime Min­is­ter Kenny An­thony, a s

and dis­tracted agric

seem­ingly per­plexed gover­nor gen­eral Pear­lette Louisy, deputy prime min­is­ter Mario Michel, for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter Ge­orge Od­lum cul­ture min­is­ter Cas­sius Elias at Ken­neth John’s fu­neral cer­e­mony in 1998.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Saint Lucia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.