Where Are They?

08/10/2007 04:31 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Romans had a phrase for it -- Ubi sunt -- meaning "where are those who
went before us?" It is, admittedly, a question every generation asks
the one that succeeds it. Naturally, the younger generation is always
found to be wanting.

Yet, even allowing for the generational sense of smug superiority that
marks the old fogey, the current crop of Americans does seem to be
failing us in a rather extreme way. Just look at what passes for
heroism in the present age, and who pass for role models:

Barry Bonds breaks Hank Aaron's career home run record hitting his
756the round-tripper. Yet, his achievement is seriously clouded. Did he
use steroids to reach his goal? Can his conduct on or off the
ballfield be compared with that of Lou Gehrig or Joe Dimaggio or Jackie
Robinson? Or Hank Aaron?

The late Pat Tillman is commemorated for his heroic death in battle. In
World War II, Audie Murphy was given the Congressional Medal of Honor
for singlehandedly resisting German tanks, after having ordered his
troops to withdraw for their own safety. Tillman is given the Silver
Star for having been shot by his own comrades from a distance perhaps
as close as ten meters.

Tom Cruise is the most popular movie star in America. Can you imagine
Jimmy Stewart joining a lunatic religious cult or Gary Cooper jumping
up and down on Oprah's couch to express his enthusiasm for a new

Young beauties such as Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Britney Spears
dominate the covers of our celebrity magazines. not because of their
charm or acting ability -- as did Audrey Hepburn or Julia Roberts -- but
because they are regularly in and out of prison or rehab for driving
under the influence, when not demonstrating to a gaping public that
they are not wearing panties.

There are a few recent sports figures -- Tiger Wood, Vanessa and Serena
Williams, Roberto Clemente -- who have performed with generosity and
professionalism. But how many today can match the grace of Joe Louis or
Bill Tilden or Knute Rockne?

Rappers such as Snoop Dogg, Lil Flip, Lil Wayne, Young Buck among
numerous others have ended up in jail for shooting, stabbing, or
possession. It is true that Frank Sinatra, in the older generation, was
hardly a role model for would-be pop singers. But how about Bing
Crosby, Nat King Cole, and Perry Como?

Among political pundits, put Bill O'Reilly beside Edward R. Murrow, and
Ann Coulter beside Walter Cronkite. Wait for the laughs.
One of the very few heroes in public life today is Al Gore, who isn't
even running for office. How many of the current candidates can
honestly declare that they live by principles rather than polls, or by
the pull of inner conviction rather than by the pressure of strategic

The most detested figure in America is the man who was twice elected
President, once even legitimately -- George W. Bush. Thomas Jefferson
helped write the declaration of Independence, James Madison the United
States Constitution, Abraham Lincoln the Gettysburg Address. Bush will
be remembered for the Patriot Act.

Ubi sunt.