311_Chile miners celebration.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The saga of Chile’s 33 miners has riveted the world’s attention as few stories
with such a happy ending do. News outlets around the globe knew instinctively
that the successful rescue of the miners deserved prominent exposure. The
conclusion of the subterranean drama dominated front pages – including of this
paper – and the top slot of TV and radio news programs.
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and critical, the vast majority of news commentators dared not raise the
possibility that something might go wrong. Inevitably, the rescue was compared
to the Apollo 11 landing on the moon in July 1969.
Rare are the incidents
that attract international media attention for their power to instill wonder and
joy, rather than horror and trepidation. In this context NASA’s assistance in
supplying design requirements for the extraction capsule that carried the men to
safety was fitting.
The Chilean miners’ plight contained all the elements
of a good story, particularly the triumph of the human spirit over fatalism. The
Chilean government insisted on devoting all available resources to the rescue,
despite the always-present risk of failure and dashed hopes. As The Wall Street
Journal pointed out, the story of the miners is telling proof that bonds between
human beings go beyond cost-benefit analysis.
The idea of forfeiting
those 33 men as an unavoidable expense, incurred in the endeavor to extract
copper and gold from deep down within the earth, was never even contemplated.
These were human beings. Chile’s stubborn insistence on rescuing them no
matter the cost or the trouble set priorities right.
All of humanity
instinctively understood and identified with this. Doing so made them feel good.
As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu put it, by showing how it values life,
Chile has become an “inspiration” for the world.
Some have taken an
admonishing approach to the media focus. For instance, Daniel Pauvif, a local
Roman Catholic priest, was critical of the news media for overlooking the “real”
story, namely the miners’ faulty work conditions. Instead, he complained, they
appealed to base emotions, focusing exclusively on the human interest angle. He
lamented reports that families had cut secret deals with big media in the US and
Europe to provide exclusive rights to their experiences being trapped for 69
days 700 meters underground.
“This has become a spectacle that is
revealing human weakness,” Pauvif told The New York Times. “It is making them
open to asking for money for interviews. Some have ceded to
The media did indeed focus on the individual lives of the
miners. There was Esteban Rojas, 44, who soon after surfacing vowed to give his
wife of 25 years the church wedding she deserved, while Yonny Barrios, 50, faced
the embarrassing prospect of being met by his mistress while his wife stood by
But understanding the foibles – and the strengths – of
the miners is precisely what made them so human and thus so intriguing for all
of us. It is precisely at these times that all citizens of the world can forget
their many differences (cultural, religious, historical), at least temporarily,
and unite in a collective outpouring of human empathy.
THERE WAS also the
familiar local phenomenon of looking for the Israeli or Jewish angle in every
international event, whether it was the intentional publication of excerpts from
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s 1987 book Terrorism: How the West Can Win that
“foresaw” international attention being drawn to a small group of miners trapped
in a mine; or reports that Israeli doctors might have had a role, no matter how
minor, in advising the Chileans how to maintain the health of the trapped
miners; or that Chilean Jewish mining executive Leonardo Farkas gave $10,000 to
each of the 33 miners, more than they earn in a year. Perhaps this shows our
refusal to accept Israel’s normalcy, a vestige of our tradition of
Chileans’ own spontaneous outbursts of national pride – the
repeated singing of the national anthem as the miners were brought up one by one
– was a testimony to the very human phenomenon of patriotism and the need to
Ultimately, the miners’ rescue is a study in the capacity for
peoples from diverse backgrounds and cultures to recognize that what ties them
together is often just as significant as what makes them unique.