Crossroad Decisions

It was 1910, and the United States was facing a shortage of meat. Meat riots were occurring in major cities. Native animals were still being hunted in rural areas, but cities faced a shortage of meat in part due to the flood of immigrants. America was facing a crisis that it couldn’t solve by just expanding westward.

Two men with international experience thought they had the solution. Frederick Russell Burnham was an adventurer with military experience in Africa. He was a leading figure in the creation of the Boy Scouts. The second man was Fritz Duquesne, a con man with a very serious record of wrong doing. He had many aliases and was in and out of jail most of his life. He was also a big game hunter and advised President Theodore Roosevelt on hunting big game. He had at one time been ordered to kill Burnham, but later on became a partner in proposing a solution to the meat shortage.

What Burnham and Duquesne proposed was that the U.S. would import hippopotamuses from Africa to become the primary source of meat for the U.S. They were aided in their proposal by Representative Robert Broussard of Louisiana. The State of Louisiana had been gifted water hyacinths by a Japanese delegation. The flowers took over the rivers and were killing the fish. Broussard reasoned that the hippos would eat the flowers, and fish would be restored.

Broussard introduced the Hippo Bill in Congress. It had the support of President Roosevelt, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Washington Post and the New York Times. America faced a crossroads in its history: diversify the source of meat available to Americans or find a way to expand supplies of traditional meat sources. The U.S. Department of Agriculture decided to expand the supplies of traditional meat by draining swamps and opening up lands for beef in the American Midwest.

How should a country face such major crossroad decisions? How do we evaluate the consequences of decisions that may take decades to materialize? Do we have the political will to opt for a better long term decision when a short term, but less effective, fix is much more popular?

There are crossroad decisions we face today. For example, should our environmental priorities be on alternative sources of energy or carbon capture? Should national security be primarily defensive or offensive? What about approaches to economic justice?

Just imagine how we might approach such crossroad decisions in our current polarized society? In retrospect, the importing of hippopotamuses seems to be absurd, even though it was popular at the time. Just imagine whether some of the crossroad possibilities we face today will appear to be a crazy “hippo choice” in the future? Just imagine what it will take for our society to accept a crossroad decision which we know to be currently painful but possibly much superior in the future?

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“May we muster courage at the crossroads, courage for the conflicts, courage to say “no”, courage to say “yes”, for courage counts.” – Thomas Monson (American religious leader of the Mormon faith)

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