HUDSON, Ohio (Dec. 8, 2000)—The Book of Job in the Bible´s Old Testament tells the folktale of a wealthy and righteous man named Job to whom God, on a dare, has allowed Satan to do horrible things. In swift blows, Satan sees to it that Job loses his worldly possessions and that his ten children die. Job also suffers a painful disfiguring disease before God finally restores his children and his possessions.
Biblical scholars view the book as an attempt to explain why, in life, righteous people must suffer. Or, to paraphrase best-selling author Harold Hushner, why bad things happen to good people.
Job´s tragic tale came to mind recently when I read an article in The New Yorker about the devastating things that have happened to Decatur, Illinois, in the last decade.
Decatur, as the world knows, is the site of the Firestone plant that produced many of the tires alleged to have lost their treads with deadly consequences at high speeds when mounted on Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicles.
According to the article, the Firestone controversy is just the latest calamity to plague the city of 83,000. For example:
*In the mid-´90s simultaneous strikes at Firestone, Caterpillar, and A.E. Staley, a British-owned corn processor, earned Decatur the dubious nickname of Striketown USA.
*In 1996 a price-fixing scandal at another Decatur company, grain processor Archer Daniels Midland, produced guilty pleas, a $100-million dollar fine, and prison terms for three executives.
*Racial hostilities and protest marches erupted last year after the Decatur school board expelled six African-American high-school students for fighting in the stands during a football game.
Reading about these embarrassments made me feel sorry for Decatur residents. The feeling grew when I read about two more devastating developments:
*Back-to-back tornadoes that struck Decatur on consecutive nights in 1996.
*An outbreak of streptococcus that killed eight citizens several years ago.
There is little doubt that all these negative events have given Decatur a reputation as a hard-luck town. If this has put residents on the defensive, it´s understandable.
Decaturans consider themselves not just workers, but hard workers, Mark Singer, the reporter who wrote The New Yorker article, points out. As one businessman told him, "this city just puts its nose down and makes things..."
Mr. Singer adds, "For a town willing to apply itself so diligently...the Firestone fiasco seems plain unfair. And, worse, it evokes...the nauseating distress of being a yo-yo on a string manipulated far away by an unseen yo-yoist."
It remains to be seen whether in time Decatur will shed the unfair reputation these developments have foisted upon it. Meanwhile, its residents can hope that just as Job´s fortune and family were restored to him after his untold suffering, Decatur´s misfortunes—including the Firestone controversy—will fade away and the city will regain it reputation as a town of hard-working citizens.
Mr. Zielasko, now retired, is the former editor of Tire Business.