As the awful events of September 11 unfolded, the magnitude of the disaster became apparent and the death toll rose, we found the haunting words of an old song going through our head, as old songs will do. It was written on the eve of World War II by the interventionist balladeer Woody Guthrie, and commemorated the loss of the U.S. destroyer Reuben James (DD 245). On escort duty in the Atlantic in October, 1941, she was torpedoed and sunk by a U-boat, although we were not at war. All the officers and most of the men perished. Guthrie spoke for those ashore who knew them, and who could not readily learn their fates:
What were their names, Tell me, what were their names? Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James?
Our industry lost people in the World Trade Center, struck down at their posts while engaged in the entirely honorable and nonbelligerent activity of meeting the needs of their customers. They were seeking to make easier and more pleasant the innumerable small exchanges that provide the foundation of civilized life. It is the aim of our enemies to disrupt those exchanges, although they themselves could not live without them, and they thus are parasites on the system they seek to cripple.
It is easy to say that we must not let them succeed. We are confident that they will not; but let us admit that they have made some progress. The movement of goods by road, rail and air has been slowed by necessary security precautions, and the costs of warehousing and transporting merchandise have increased. Employees and patrons serving in the National Guard and Reserve will be called to active duty. Businesses that depend on unimpeded travel face difficult times.
Our industries already have made contributions to relief and support programs on behalf of the victims,their families, and the emergency services personnel engaged in recovery efforts. We are sure these efforts will continue as appropriate. Perhaps the more difficult task will be to find ways to continue to provide a high level of service to the clients who depend upon these industries to sustain their own morale and productivity. This will not become any less difficult when service provider and client alike are attempting to deal with losses, and with the unavailability of amenities we have come to take for granted, like the prompt arrival of parcels delivered by air. And we hope that the small operations that lost a majority of their customers, who also were their friends, will not be forgotten.
Some have charged that the increasing scope and sophistication of modern technology has made us more vulnerable.The terrorists surely believe this. A primitive community consisting of a few merchants and artisans surrounded by an agricultural population seems far more self-sufficient than a modern city. But it is important to remember that such communities regularly starved to death when the local crop failed, and the resources that might have sustained the populace could not be brought quickly enough to its aid. The two World Wars of the past century demonstrated that industrial civilization, though complex and seemingly fragile, is surprisingly resilient.
As the President continues to emphasize, it is essential to keep on performing the work we know how to do well and usefully. In striving to accomplish this, it may be helpful to look ahead and to look back, too. Many people still remember how we did things a quarter of a century ago, when our transportation and communications systems were not nearly as well developed as they are now. Some of those methods might well be revived. At the same time, we have access to new tools that can enable us to make more efficient use of our time and our logistical resources. There may be no better time than now to start using those tools.
And, whatever happens, we must continue to maintain that complex series of exchanges that sustains a civilized society. We must continue communicating, trading ideas, comparing notes, obtaining the information needed to try new things, and establishing and maintaining relationships based on mutual confidence and trust.
We hope these things will be kept in mind as the vending and coffee service industry assembles for the National Automatic Merchandising Association Expo. It's time to consider how to move ahead.