November 15, 2010
Dear Marketplace Friend,
Talk about stark contrast: if you’re in the magazine business – competing for the newsstand shopper who is visually stimulated – you’re pretty careful about whom you put on the front cover. Blonde starlets are Choice #1, it seems. Wait: what’s the big guy with the big open mouth doing on that cover?
On the cover of Newsweek, it’s Rush Limbaugh. The cover story is “The Power 50.” The exposé inside explores the question of America’s most influential players on the political field.
They used a strange criterion to form a list that begins with Limbaugh and ends with #50, David Axelrod. In between the top and bottom are names like Glenn Beck (#2) and Sarah Palin (#6); Bill Clinton (#8) and George W. Bush (#18); Karl Rove (#35) and Dick Cheney (#32). The measuring stick, oddly enough, was their most recent annual earnings. Rush pegged $58.7 to be first; Sarah Palin is slotted at $14 million, while President Obama occupies #20 with $4 million (book sales, not salary).
It causes me to step back and ask an unpopular question: is influence really measured in income? Have we come to the place in our cultural slide where the ability to generate cash flow is the greatest indicator of one’s influence –
“the power to have an effect on the character, development or behavior of someone else” – on the world around them?
Laura Hillenbrand – she’s the author of Seabiscuit which became the movie – has written the biography of Louis Zamperini, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, to be released today. He isn’t on anyone’s “most influential” list, but he sure belongs there.
Louie’s story starts-out “down the street” in Southern California. He had his childhood scrapes, but became an athlete – a runner – who competed for the United States in the 1936 Olympic Games. When World War II erupted, he became a bombardier on a B-24 flying out of Hawaii. In May of 1943, his plane crashed into the north Pacific, killing eight of the 11 man crew and leaving him with two comrades adrift in a raft for 47 days. One died on Day 33; Louie and the pilot washed ashore in the Marshall Islands, only to be captured and imprisoned by Japanese forces.
For the next 25 months, he was abused by his captors in an effort to get the famous-back-home Olympic athlete to denounce his country. He would not. Zamperini’s resistance to torture just turned up the intensity, but he never relented.
Rescued at the end of the war, he returned home to be afflicted by the memories imbedded in his mind. In 1949, his wife induced him to join her in a tent on Hill Street in Los Angeles to hear a young, fiery preacher from North Carolina. There, in response to Billy Graham’s invitation, Louie Zamperini found peace and grace through his new Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
He spent his career life running a center for troubled youth in Los Angeles. I met Louie when he was 50; today, he’s 93.
In 1984 – at age 67 – he carried the Olympic torch in the relay that delivered the flame to the Coliseum in Los Angeles for the Games. But one of his greatest achievements was in the 1990’s, when he wrote to the guard/war criminal who had abused and tortured him almost 50 years earlier: “As a result of my prisoner of war experience under your unwarranted and unreasonable punishment, my post war life became a nightmare – but thanks to a confrontation with God, I committed my life to Christ. Love replaced the hate I had for you.” The letter was delivered to the aging perpetrator, at his home in Japan. Louie never received a reply…
He’s not on Newsweek’s list – and he’s never made much money – but his story continues to portray some of what makes America great. I’d rather hang with him than most of the list…