Do we have the right to help others who don’t want our help? with Barnacles and Harry R Truman – Blogging the Octonauts, Season 4 Episode 9, “The Convict Fish”

It’s a while since I posted a Blogging the Octonauts post (here is another one). To recap, the Octonauts is a children’s TV show based on the rather more whimsical books by Meomi.

As well as being highly educational, and full of Important Lessons, the Octonauts is an awful lot of fun. Indeed, it became one of those children’s programmes that parents (well, this parent anyhow) would watch even if the children themselves drifted off to sleep.

I had never even heard of the convict fish until I saw this:

This episode also raises an ethical issue – how far should you push helping others who do not want help? The mother convict fish refuses to evacuate the threatened reef, despite the Octonauts warnings. No spoilers here, but I will draw a parallel with Harry R Truman. No, not Harry S. Harry R steadfastly refused his home near Mount St Helens despite the warnings that preceded its 1980 eruption:. From Wikipedia:

Truman became a minor celebrity during the two months of volcanic activity preceding the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, giving interviews to reporters and expressing his opinion that the danger was exaggerated. “I don’t have any idea whether it will blow,” he said, “but I don’t believe it to the point that I’m going to pack up.”[16] Truman displayed little concern about the volcano and his situation: “If the mountain goes, I’m going with it. This area is heavily timbered, Spirit Lake is in between me and the mountain, and the mountain is a mile away, the mountain ain’t gonna hurt me.”[17] Law enforcement officials were incensed by his refusal to evacuate because media representatives kept entering the restricted zone near the volcano to interview him, endangering themselves in the process. Still, Truman remained steadfast. “You couldn’t pull me out with a mule team. That mountain’s part of Truman and Truman’s part of that mountain.”[14]

Truman told reporters that he was knocked from his bed by precursor earthquakes, so he responded by moving his mattress to the basement.[10] He claimed to wear spurs to bed to cope with the earthquakes while he slept.[18] He scoffed at the public’s concern for his safety,[10] responding to scientists’ claims about the threat of the volcano that “the mountain has shot its wad and it hasn’t hurt my place a bit, but those goddamn geologists with their hair down to their butts wouldn’t pay no attention to ol’ Truman.”[14]

As a result of his defiant commentary, Truman became something of a folk hero[10] and was the subject of many songs and poems by children.[19] One group of children from Salem, Oregon, sent him banners inscribed “Harry – We Love You”, which moved him so much that he took a helicopter trip (paid for by National Geographic)[20] to visit them on May 14.[18] He also received many fan letters,[21] including several marriage proposals.[22] A group of fifth graders from Grand Blanc, Michigan, wrote letters that brought him to tears. In return, he sent them a letter and volcanic ash, which the students later sold to buy flowers for his family after the eruption.[20]

He caused a media frenzy, appearing on the front page of The New York Times and The San Francisco Examiner and attracting the attention of National Geographic, United Press International, and The Today Show.[23] Many major magazines composed profiles, including Time, Life, Newsweek, Field & Stream, and Reader’s Digest. A historian named Richard W. Slatta wrote that “his fiery attitude, brash speech, love of the outdoors, and fierce independence… made him a folk hero the media could adore.”[20] Slatta pointed to Truman’s “unbendable character and response to the forces of nature” as a source of his rise to fame, and the interviews with him added “color” to reports about the events at Mount St. Helens.[24] Truman was immortalized, according to Slatta, “with many of the embellished qualities of the western hero”, and the media spotlight created a persona that was “in some ways quite different from his true character.”[2]

Harry R Truman’s story is rather moving. And one wonders would he be as celebrated today? Whatever about media coverage, it is hard to imagine school children being encouraged to not only celebtrate but contact someone so defiant of Health and Safety.

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