The effort to rescue 33 miners trapped a half-mile underground for 69 days was bound to attract attention, but the worldwide interest in the operation has made it a perhaps surprising global phenomenon.
Perhaps people are hungry for a happy ending in a world in which unhappy endings are all too common. Perhaps people are eager to acknowledge competence and dedication in putting together an enormously complex operation that could have gone wrong in dozens of ways.
In Chile we have seen what appears to have been a careful, thoughtful process of consideration of alternatives and development of plans that was open to — indeed, welcomed — input from those who had relevant knowledge, no matter where in the world they lived.
International attention, of course, is partially spurred by technology — events can be broadcast more instantaneously worldwide than ever before — and by the ability of most people to imagine themselves in difficult circumstances and to wonder how ordinary people will respond to adversity. It is also spurred by the fact that companies from around the world contributed tools and specialized knowledge to the rescue effort.
Who could not be moved to laughter and tears by the exuberant emergence of miner after miner, laughing and hugging loved ones, celebrating their good fortune and acknowledging the untiring efforts of thousands of people who made the rescue possible?
Who was not pleased that, instead of chaos and infighting, we saw order and discipline emerge almost spontaneously among the miners?
There may be physical and psychological problems to come for these brave men, but they have handled their adversity admirably. And most people can sense and acknowledge admirable behavior.
It is not irrelevant that Chile, beginning in the 1980s, passed a number of free-market-oriented reforms that secured property rights and led to reform of the country’s old-age social security system. As a result, Chile has experienced remarkable economic growth that helped in establishing an industrial infrastructure able to employ advanced technology and residual wealth to weather natural and man-made disasters. A series of left-oriented political leaders has left those reforms in place because they worked.
Recently Chileans elected President Sebastian Pinera, usually called “conservative” but, in fact, a market liberal, as further endorsement of free-market-oriented policies. Pinera has focused government efforts on this rescue — indeed, staked his presidency on its success. It appears the Chilean government was able to move competently on something government ought to do in part because it wasn’t trying to do an array of things government has no business doing.
By moving beyond a spurious but commonplace notion of national pride that spurns help from outsiders, Chile’s leaders gave Chileans and others solid reasons to admire the country and to instill national pride based on solid accomplishment, openness, and perseverance rather than the false pride that comes from a sometimes admirable but sometimes unthinking attachment to home and country.
Chile deserves enormous respect for the way it has handled this disaster.