J. KARL MILLER: 76 years later, entitlement reigns over responsibility

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 | 3:21 p.m. CDT; updated 9:25 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Early last week (June 21), I celebrated the summer solstice, the first day of summer and the longest day of sunlight of the year by embarking on my final journey toward the exalted rank of centenarian. At age 76, I officially passed that three-quarter-century mark, off and running past the "primitive" and on toward antiquity.

I would prefer the title "Centurion" over that of "Centenarian;" however, Mr. Webster's definition of the former as the commander of a Roman century (100 soldiers) permitted no deviation. Thus, I am stuck with that sobriquet, which, while not quite as cool as I might like, is nevertheless grammatically correct.

Being neither gainfully employed (retired is the proper term I am told) nor as active as in my earlier years, gives me ample opportunity to reflect upon the fortunes and the pitfalls I avoided to enable me to arrive at this point. Without early oversight by the Center for Science in the Public Interest along with assorted other diet dictators and the litany of meddlers in the name of safety, health, efficiency, you name it —how did I manage to survive for 75-plus years?

My regular readers know of my aversion to needless and overbearing regulations that appear to multiply much like Star Trek's Tribbles. Neither an anarchist nor an ultra Libertarian, I am not anti-rules and regulations, but rather merely against those created specifically to intrude on personal responsibility, while also providing meddling options for those with not enough to keep them busy.

As is the case  of many in my generation, I grew up on raw, unpasteurized whole milk —2 percent and nonfat were unheard of — and the unappetizing "blue-colored" skim milk came from Holstein cows. Moreover, my mother's cooking oil was always lard; chicken and fish were always fried; and breakfast food was eggs, with bacon, ham or sausage. In winter, oatmeal was also served.

I am not sure when or where I first heard of seat belts and the dire consequences of not being buckled up before driving or riding. Our family transportation was a three-quarter ton Chevrolet pickup truck — my brothers and I rode in the bed. The longest ride I remember was from our Chariton County farm to Sidney, Iowa, for a rodeo, fortified with bales of straw and pillows for comfort.

Of course there were rules and regulations for children — established by parents. They were fairly simple by today's norms — the first three rules were that chores come first, do as you are told and behave yourself when no one is watching. There was no need for a fourth rule inasmuch as we knew there were dire consequences for non-adherence to rules number one through three. The bonus for obedience to rules was trust — by the age of 10, we carried pocket knives, BB guns and, in many cases, rifles and shotguns.

For my environmentalist readers, we were "green" long before green was cool. Our drinking, bathing, livestock and cooking water as well as our radio batteries were all wind powered. Bath water was heated with solar power — tubs of water sitting all day in the sun. Of course, when there was no wind, we pumped the water by hand and did without a radio. When there was no sun, bathing was not for the faint of heart. I have no desire for return to those unthrilling days of yesteryear.

I am firmly convinced that this generation not only survived but thrived by staying active, assuming personal responsibility, acknowledging the difference between right and wrong, and living by the rules of common sense. We knew that overeating minus exercise equaled fat. We knew long before these lurid warnings on tobacco products evolved that smoking was unhealthy — cigarettes were coffin nails and cancer sticks long before I was born.

We were taught there is no such thing as a free lunch — we were entitled to the fruits of our labor alone, though a few seem to have missed that lesson. Regardless of the wealth of our neighbors, we had no expectation for them to share it, nor did he have an obligation to redistribute his holdings. Sadly, the culture of entitlement is swallowing that of individual responsibility.

Although some of them are tempting, I don't espouse a return to those "good old days" as some were not that good, and some of the best are impossible to resurrect. However, we seem to have acquired a "what's in it for me" syndrome along with a sense of personal entitlement that is destroying the "rugged individualism" for which Americans were once admired.

As I continue onward to however near the century mark I achieve, my faith in the United States of America remains strong. Although today's challenges are far more daunting than were those of my somewhat humble origins, I see something reassuring in the reaction of the youngest generation. Slowly but surely, they seem to be grasping the truth — that obligations plus entitlements cannot exceed revenue forever — that without a reckoning, this borrowed time will expire.

I may not make it to my goal, but if I don't, it won't be for a lack of effort. I would really hate to see the lights in the U S of A grow dim on my watch.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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Ellis Smith June 29, 2011 | 4:00 p.m.

"I would hate to see the the lights of the US of A grow dim on my watch."

You are not alone, but that doesn't mean the process hasn't begun.

I've worked in the tropics, where the sun drops quickly and dramatically from view in the evening. Our current situation is more like sunset at higher latitudes, where there's substantial twilight and it seems the sun will take hours in setting.

(Where I grew up, milk was delivered to our home doorsteps in glass bottles, with the cream at the top of the liquid. When it got down to -10F to -20F in the winter, the milk would freeze in the bottles and the expansion of the cream would push up the cardboard bottle tops. Dad had a Model A Ford sedan, in Henry Ford's favorite color - black.)

(Report Comment)
Mike Patnode July 5, 2011 | 8:17 a.m.

Col Miller. Give us 25 more! Mike Patnode

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