YANKS ON A TRAIN: Courageous Commuters or Pusillanimous Passengers?

Written by Steve Pauwels on September 10, 2015

As a still-proud citizen of the US of A, I’ll take whatever “attaboys” (“bon travails“?) the French want to send our way. Recently, three vacationing Americans on a Paris-bound train (with the help of a plucky Brit and, reportedly, an unnamed French national) disarmed and subdued AK-47-toting, murder-minded, jihadist wannabe Ayoub El-Khazzani before he could wreak most of his bloody work. As a consequence, the three youthful Yanks (Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos) and sixty-two year old British grand-dad Chris Norman were knighted, bestowed France’s highest decoration, the Légion d’honneur.

This dramatic incident’s juxtaposition with another mass-transit attack from earlier this summer almost couldn’t be more stark. July 4th, in a chilling story that got comparatively skimpy attention, a carload of Washington, D.C. metro-passengers ignominiously stood by as a knife-wielding, druggie goon stabbed, slashed and pummeled to death an incapacitated victim. Whereas Stone and his pals charged their villain, the DC-Metro gang did nothing while a fellow traveler was butchered by theirs.

One of those anonymous bystanders admitted, “My instinct was to stay put and try to become as small as possible … I think we were all trying to stay away from him.” 

So, on an Amsterdam-to-Paris railway in late August, manly defiance of evil went to work. On a line running in America’s capitol several weeks before? Wellll … not so much. 

It’s remarkable the effect some old-fashioned gutsiness can exert on entire nations. As mentioned, la République française heralded their train’s intrepid band of rescuers. And that American threesome’s homeland Republic is still talking about their exploits.

There’s a slavering hunger in our day for demonstrations of masculine daring and dauntless self-sacrifice. Witness the blockbuster success of films like Lone Survivor and American Sniper. Consider  the steroidal surging of Liam Neeson’s career playing a middle-aged father remorselessly plowing through legions of bad guys to save his daughter. Witness 21st-century movie channels’ inexhaustibly screening decades-old films of John Wayne, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, and other celluloid tough guys.  

Nowadays, displays of derring-do raptly seize folks’ attention. We were created to live valorously – when a valor-vacuum develops, men’s hearts long for its visitation.

Reflecting on the Paris train’s stalwart trio, U.S. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley aptly summed up:

We often use the word hero and in this case I know that word has never been more appropriate. They are truly heroes. When most of us would run away, Spencer, Alek and Anthony ran into the line of fire, saying “Let’s go.” Those words changed the fate of many.

A few other observations:

— It’s great having a servicemember around when you need one. “[H]onor, so out of fashion in our time, is awfully handy in emergencies,” writes Mona Charen; and last time I checked, our nation’s military specializes in elevating and inculcating that particular virtue.

Regarding that military, let me say, “Yay!” Or better, yet, “YAYYYYY!” Two of these three peripatetic heroes have considerable experience under arms.  Stone, although off-duty at the time of the encounter, is a member of the US Air Force.  Specialist Alek Skarlatos, whose “Let’s go!” launched the lads’ foray against the Moroccan gunman, currently serves in the National Guard.  

The latter explained his martial background played a role in his reaction: “Our training kicked in after the struggle.”

Airman Stone commented, “I was thinking about survival. It was to survive and for everybody else on the train to make it.” 

I understand, it’s trendy these days to scoff at our fighting forces (think Operation Jade Helm, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Posse Comitatus, etc.) Of course there’s some risk involved supporting a standing military — but none of that negates the non-negotiable necessity of maintaining one in this very, very menacing world.

I’m part of a military family, a very proud father to two Marines — one active, one former — who’ve done time in combat zones and elsewhere overseas. My eldest presently works with vets full time. All the same, I recognize — because they recognize — our uniformed community suffers it’s share of rascals and nincompoops; as does any sizable slice of humanity. Big deal — welcome to the irremediable reality of operating in a “fallen world” (Romans 3:23). Military service remains an indispensable and noble calling. 

— Speaking of those aforementioned “civilians”: three of them participated in this exercise in life-hazarding gallantry, springing into action alongside their military-sharpened mates. Businessman Chris Norman admitted the Yanks’ bravery inspired his part in neutralizing the terror threat. It emerges, if the “bystander effect” can stir cowardice in spectators (as it reputedly did in the Washington, DC metro disgrace), it can similarly provoke courage. And it must.

Nope, military mettle by its lonesome is not sufficient for a country to survive and prosper. Every member of a society needs to stand poised to do his/her share whenever called up. The time-tested notion of a “militia” (a ready-for-duty body of citizen-solders) affirms this; as does common sense.

Professional soldiers and career law enforcement can’t be everywhere, all the time. So, the principle of personal and shared responsibility has to kick in. On a certain level, every American — every person in general, for that matter — must needs be prepared and equipped to protect himself and his neighbor (Matthew 22:39). Two-Hundred-Twenty-Six years ago, another dogged crew grasped that principle — thus, vouchsafing to future generations a new nation; and a Second Amendment.  

Recall, when Rome fell into the unbecoming habit of contracting out its national defense, essentially relying on paid, foreign mercenaries for their security, its eventual downfall was sealed. 

— After nearly seven years groaning under our current Divider-in-Chief and his race-obsessed enablers, how refreshing was it to see, prominently in the news, two white guys (Stone, Skarlatos) and one black guy (Sadler) amicably together; not shaking their fists in spittle-flecked rage or roaring profanities at one another while a city burns behind them; but simply, comfortably hanging out — first as buddies, then as heroes. 

Recall the iconic passage in Isaiah of the wolf idyllically lying down with the lamb (11:6) — intimations of a season of unparalleled peace prevailing over the planet. I confess experiencing a delirious frisson of something like that when I saw these three fine, pigmentally distinct young men, longtime friends who reportedly met in junior high school and now were trekking Europe together; and who ended up saving countless lives working as a color-blind team. 

It can become a whole lot less rare, if the Al Sharptons, Jesse Jacksons, Lewis Farrakhans and other assorted race-hustlers  — and yes, a few race-mongering nitwits on the “Right” as well —  are disregarded and finally rendered irrelevant. 

–- Oh, yes: Sadler is apparently an involved church member, the son of a Baptist pastor. His and his compatriots’ bio mentions they’re childhood chums who met while attending Christian school. So what’ve we got here? A trio of individuals who combine themes of: male-ness, the military, burly physicality, race-neutrality, Americanism, Christianity. Goodness! From a progressive, red-white-and-blue-slighting perspective,  this crew has checked all the wrong boxes. 

Yet, in spite of it all, look what they accomplished. 

Kudos to French officials for acknowledging that. Whatever animosities they might periodically nurse toward the United States, they put those aside to commend Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler –- trois hommes américains who, in do-or-die crunch time, stepped up.

Their’s was a stouthearted response, the kind that, times past, would have been considered standard operating procedure for anyone calling him/herself “American”. That’s an 
expectation, however, that can’t be taken for granted any longer. After all, it was cravenly declined not long ago by another gaggle of commuters on another train in similarly perilous straits.

In the very heart of America.

Image: Courtesy of The Patriot Post; http://patriotpost.us/posts/37163

Share if you appreciate these courageous young Americans.

Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.