2001 may have been a bad year, but it's not nearly the worst humanity has faced

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
December 30, 2001

Every year about this time, commentators write and talk about how the year just ending was special and different in some way. Each year's writers make the argument that things are now colder, more violent, less civil or more dangerous than ever before. Every generation has a tendency to presume a moral and cultural decay vis-'-vis previous generations. I guess it is the "glass-is-half-empty" part of our collective consciousness.

Perhaps they are right. But I doubt it. Are things different now than a year ago? September 11 was a horrible tragedy unlike anything I have ever come close to witnessing. In many ways, it was unlike anything that has ever happened in this country. To the individuals directly touched, it will be the most defining event in their families' lives. But in other ways and in a universal sense, it was simply another in a centuries-long series of senseless and unexplainable violations of the God-given right to life.

Usama bin Laden is not the first candidate for anti-Christ, nor is he likely to be the last. In the almost 2,000 years since the writings of the apostle Paul (and probably for centuries before that), men have warned of the coming end of time, pointing to a perceived increase in senseless destruction as a precursor.

The horrible atrocities of the German holocaust against the Jews are well documented. Less is known about the 25,000 Polish citizens who were also murdered in the spring of 1940 by either German or Russian soldiers. Imagine being in Syria in 1138 and 1139 when, in two consecutive years, earthquakes killed an estimated 100,000 and 230,0000 people, respectively. Or 60 years later when another 1 million Syrians died in a third earthquake. Think about over half a million Americans dying in the US Civil War. Or the 6,600 people killed each month during the 44 months of World War II. Whether by the hand of man or nature, irreconcilable death and misery have been a part of life as long as we know. Some scientists even suggest that on three occasions in the last 250 million years, the earth experienced almost complete extinctions of life as the result of violent comet or meteor collisions.

Whether the earth is 250 million years old or a mere 10,000, it is clear that it is easiest to relate to things from the perspective of our own experiences. The reason it takes so long for next Christmas to get here for a five-year-old is because another year is an additional 20 percent of his life. But a year seems to fly by for me because 12 months add less than 3 percent to the length of my life. This was a horrible year for millions of people - not just those affected by terrorists, wars, or stock market corrections. Those calamities have always happened, but never to most of those specific people.

In a September 23rd memorial service in Yankee Stadium, Rabbi Marc Gellman noted that 6,000 people did not die on September 11; one person died 6,000 times. Gellman is correct; life is lived and lost one person at a time. Each of us has our own individual experiences and we relate to those experiences within the brief context of our own lives.

In "My Favorite Memory," Merle Haggard, the poet of the common man, sings "I guess everything does change, except what we choose to recall." What incredible wisdom. I am not the first man to struggle with juggling new fatherhood and a business. Millions before me have traversed these waters successfully and I shouldn't feel or act as if I am blazing virgin territory. You may have lost a job, a loved one or a million dollars last year; you were not the first, nor will you be the last. Life presents few, if any, new challenges. The challenges may be new for you, but someone has faced your demons before - and survived.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

Add me to your commentary distribution list.

MCM website