April 2002 Bulletin

Lincoln inspires; Goodwin delights

"It is important in dramatic moments, such as the United States is facing now, to go back and see how we got through other difficult times," Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin told AAOS members during her keynote address at the Annual Meeting on February 15. While the stories she told about Abraham Lincoln were indeed inspiring, the experiences she shared from her own life—both with Presidents and her family delighted the audience and often triggered laughter.

Ms. Goodwin found several parallels between current events and those experienced by the subject of her next biography, Abraham Lincoln. In 1837, she noted, Lincoln lamented the fact that his generation did not face challenges such as their Revolutionary forefathers.

The thought that he might not have the opportunity to leave his mark on history led Lincoln into a crippling depression. Years later, as the country faced a divisive war, he mused, "Well, maybe at last, my fondest dreams have been realized."

Pre-Sept. 11, Goodwin continued, many Americans felt as Lincoln had. The nostalgia for World War II, she hypothesized, might have been an expression of their need to feel part of a larger whole. But the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center became a rendezvous with destiny for many, including her own son, who enlisted in the army last October.

Lincoln’s ability to tell a story had its genesis when, as a child, he listened to the stories adults told, then stayed up all night reframing them so they could be understood by his friends. Goodwin got her start as a storyteller as a child as well, replaying the latest Dodger game for her father.

A native New Yorker, Goodwin paralleled the response of the city and its residents to the events of Sept. 11 to that of Londoners during the 1940-41 bombing of their city. Both communities refused to be broken. As tightened security places restrictions on daily lives, she urged the audience to remember the good humor of Americans when goods were rationed and diverted to the war effort.

During World War II, Goodwin noted, remarkable achievements were made in factory production and assembly because government and business worked together. A similar challenge exists today: to develop and install new security systems in airports across the country. In the words of Rosie the Riveter, "We can do it," said Goodwin.

"The past remains alive in all of us," concluded Goodwin, "as long as we continue to tell and retell stories."

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