Great men prove what we are capable of, but they also prove that institutions are not by themselves enough.
Uwe E. Reinhardt is a celebrity prof (economics and public affairs) at Princeton. I’ve never met him but have read some of his stuff, on account of my passing interest in health care economics. I can’t judge it but it’s consistently informative, and leavened with a healthy sense that “we economists really do not know how the world works.” (They should nail that sentence over every door jamb at the Federal Reserve.)
Professor Reinhardt’s most recent publication, which I suppose is rattling around on a thousand sites but deserves an additional shout-out here, is about the dead—specifically, “The American Dead in Foreign Fields.” If you visit the cemeteries for American soldiers in Europe or Asia, he writes,
you will come away with renewed and strengthened respect for those of your fellow Americans willing to wear the nation’s military uniform and to bear the ultimate sacrifice one can make for one’s country. If you are a student, you will look with fresh eyes at the few among your classmates in the ROTC, learning, along with their regular studies, how to become officers in America’s armed forces.
And you will reflect deeply on our nation’s role in the world. Whatever our flaws as a people have been in the past and still are today, you will realize, standing there among the thousands of gravestones, that in the sweep of history, ours is a grand nation of which you can and should be proud.
You have to read the entire piece. It’s amazing, in a good way, that a Princeton prof is still allowed and willing to say this.
Professor Reinhardt grew up some two decades ahead of me in Osnabrueck, about two hours from my home town (Hamburg). From one ex-pat to another, then: Danke. Gut gemacht.