THE mid-July headlines screamed of neo-Nazi skinheads in Los Angeles, plotting to assassinate Rodney King and machine-gun the congregation of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church as parishioners sat in their pews. Inside pages showed visitors, searching for a little serenity, being turned away at the entrance to Yosemite while a manhunt proceeded for a fugitive who shot and wounded a forest ranger.
This country's history is too often dramatized as a series of violent headlines, from Jesse James and Billy the Kid to John Dillinger and Al Capone - terminators all. The showdown on Main Street became the favorite American morality play. To be cast as a farmer, toting a hoe instead of a six-gun, is to be reduced to a supporting actor and dismissed to the fringe of American myths.
But there is another face to America beside the hard-jaw, flinty-eyed countenance of the John Waynes and Clint Eastwoods and their enemies - sharing in common a partnership in violence. On those same mid-July days other faces also appeared on the front pages of newspapers, faces no less determined but surprisingly gentle and caring in spite of their weariness. These were the faces of men and women passing endless numbers of sandbags in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri, battling not villains in black hats but
A woman in a watery town in Iowa remarked, "My neighbors talk little of their own stress. Instead, they quietly pull together and slog through."
These self-effacing people are the authentic American heroes, surpassing in courage as they join hands the bravado of those who ball their hands into fists.
Days and weeks of frustration and even anger lie ahead. But there will be little or no violence; it's not the way these other Americans resolve their problems.
When the floods subside and the rebuilding begins, these other Americans will continue to practice the inconspicuous heroism of useful, hard-working daily lives, just as they did before the flood. Doubtless they will disappear from the headlines and become the invisible majority, as before, while the minority who practice violence will remain as visible as ever, as if they were the majority. But at this moment, while the two faces of America are side by side, let it be acknowledged which face deserves to
represent the country - and, in truth, does.