Out of all the hardships and hatreds spawned by the year-long coal miners strike just ended emerges something oddly reassuring about Britain.
It is not so much that a strike led by Marxist union chief Arthur Scargill has been defeated, although most Britons seem relieved that it failed. For many "Scargillism" came to stand for the vanguard of a revolutionary political effort, wrapped around a labor dispute, aimed at overturning the conservative government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her enthusiasm for a revival of British capitalism.
Rather, it is a sense that old virtues of tenacity, loyalty, dedication to colleague and community and plain toughness are still alive and admired here.
Whatever the long-term political and economic implications of this extraordinary clash, it seems that the vast majority of Britain's 186,000 coal miners -- including those who struck and endured extreme financial hardship and those who kept working and endured sometimes fearsome intimidation -- acted with a brand of personal courage that has frequently distinguished Britain under trying circumstances.
To be sure, British grit has also had some undistinguished moments. Critics have compared the miners to the 600 who rode courageously but foolishly behind their officers into the "valley of death" in "The Charge of the Light Brigade," as depicted by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Still, as Manchester Guardian columnist Peter Jenkins wrote, "As the violent images of last summer and autumn gave way to stories of human dignity in suffering, it became more obvious to the public that a hundred thousand British families were engaged in a feat of courage and endurance which deserved at least the respect of the nation."
The National Union of Mineworkers has suffered what appears to be a severe defeat. The idea that this once all-powerful union could never be successfully faced down by an equally tough government has been laid to rest. Yet the mystique of the mineworker, rather than his leaders, remains and may have been even strengthened by what has unfolded here over the past 12 months.
There were lumps in more than one throat around Britain as television recorded scene after scene of miners, arms locked together, paraded back to their coal pits behind off-key colliery brass bands and battered local union banners after the final union decision to go back without a settlement.
In a way, it seemed pathetic. Hundreds of men in dozens of coal mining villages gathered in the pre- dawn darkness, their lunch in plastic shopping bags, to march back to work, cheering and chanting slogans as if they had just won a victory.
But as one Welsh miner put it eloquently, "We may have lost a year's pay, but we've retained the things that matter most in these valleys -- our dignity and self-respect."
To be sure, the strike spawned widespread violence that jolted much of more comfortable Britain. It produced arson, assault, vandalism, even one murder. It frequently overshadowed the personal suffering. And it may also have produced a cadre of future young radicals who will come back to haunt another government on another picket line.
Essentially, the strike was an effort to postpone the inevitable and preserve a way of life. Most Britons understand that coal pits that require huge taxpayer subsidies and operate at a big loss have to close in favor of ones that can make a profit and compete in the marketplace.
But closing a pit means closing a community and there are important social costs. Britons are not as mobile as Americans. They don't pick up and move easily; there are not many other jobs to go to and nobody to buy their homes if they leave. The mining communities are tightly knit, somewhat insular, centered around miners welfare clubs, the local pubs, the bands, banners, sports clubs and centuries-old tradition and comradeship.
Although many miners in America may want their children to become something else, the miners here struck so that their children and grandchildren can work in the mines. They were, they said, "fighting for our class."
Yet, in many other ways, it was a strike that didn't seem to make sense. It was called in March, with spring and summer approaching, with full coal stockpiles at electricity generating plants, and with record 13 percent unemployment making it unlikely that other unions would walk out to support the miners.
Most importantly, it was started with a fatal mistake by Scargill, who ordered a nationwide strike without a nationwide ballot of the members.
The result was that some 45,000 miners in Nottinghamshire rebelled against what they saw as infringement of union rules and democracy. They kept on working, riding buses with steel grates on the windows through fierce picket lines and frequent threats against their lives, their families and their homes.
So here, too, was courage of which Britons can be proud.
In the end, the strike was an all- out slugfest. In a world where compromise frequently rules most western industrialized nations, this was a battle till exhaustion with no quarter given on either side.
Although the suffering and hardships were always there and did not go unnoticed, it was the extraordinary personalities of the three main players, Scargill, Thatcher and the chairman of the state-run National Coal Board, Ian MacGregor, that dominated.
It was Scargill, the former young Communist league member and fiery Marxist union leader, against Thatcher, the perhaps even tougher died-in-the-wool capitalist, and MacGregor, the Scottish-born but American-trained hatchet man who operated the board for Thatcher.
But this week, it was the rank- and-file miner -- striker and worker -- that briefly, yet poignantly seemed to draw the admiration of many people, and thrust everyone back to some basic values. Britons, and outsiders too, might take some comfort in that.