When I was 11, I beat up a boy pretty badly. When I say “badly”,what I really mean is viciously. I doubt my toothpick legs and matchbox fists left many marks worth remarking on. It was probably the fact that he was walking away and crying that accounts for the memory lingering so long.
He was about my age, but a little scrawnier (not an easy feat in those days). When I wasn’t tripping him to the ground, I was punching and kicking him in the back. He’d get up and choke asthmatically for breath as mucus and tears mixed with the dirt on his face. I remember other kids walking alongside us, urging me on.They would yell out and gleefully flail their arms when I landed a blow.
That’s a kind of viciousness in and of itself.
In high school word would often spread that a fight was going down at lunch. A guy (or girl) would steam around campus in search of his or her nemesis while a hundred or more of us followed behind, wasting our lunch period in hopes of gaining a peek at the ol’ ultra-violence.
So that’s it then. It’s fun to watch people hurt each other.
What I wish I’d realized then was that the bullies who picked on me did it not out of a specific dislike for me, but for the same reasons. When you’re kicking the bejeezus out of someone, somehow you don’t feel those insecurities and inhibitions as much. If you’ve ever seen a fight between two adults on the street, however,then you know it really is quite humiliating.
Of course there’s always a good crowd around watching, albeit slightly embarrassed. You want to walk away, ignore it, but it is difficult to turn your back on such unbridled passion, such absurdity. I guess we think when we get older that we are more mature, more civilized. But that fascination with violence–not just physical–doesn’t leave.
Since we believe ourselves to be civilized, we try to control violence, to put parameters around it that we find acceptable. When Tyson bites off Holyfield’s ear in the boxing ring, we are appalled by his barbarism and refer to him as little more than an animal. He is vilified because he didn’t follow the rules of violence. It is okay to do serious harm to your opponent, but you must do it in this very prescribed way. In pro football, a player can be fined thousands of dollars for “unnecessary” roughness or for hitting the wrong way. Again, the sport is violent and we encourage that (just watch Sportscenter replays) but please refrain from being violent in an “unnecessary” way.
Of course this troublesome approach to violence also plays itself out on the main stage: world politics. We’ve all seen the movies of old battles where the British line up with their muskets at one end of a field as their enemy raises their guns at the other, slowly they mow each other down. Quite a formal affair until someone decides to break the rules. They strike the enemy they are most vulnerable. Guerrilla warfare was born.
This refusal to “play by the rules” confounds governments to this day. Now we call them terrorists. If you do not represent a recognized government in an official standing army and you commit acts of violence, then you are a terrorist. Of course, by this definition, our Founding Fathers were terrorists, also the Confederates.
Our president decided that he no longer saw reason to play by the rules of violence. The pre-emptive attack against Iraq is considered by some here and many throughout the world to be an”unjust” war (pre-emptive attack is against the international”rules” of war). Essentially, that our government is not playing by the rules. Regardless of where you stood on this issue of whether or not it was “just” or “unjust”, the debate over its legality should have made you nauseous. For it was a debate over whether or not people would soon die; and Americans and Iraqis did die.
I’m not saying that the debate shouldn’t have happened, but I am saying that if the prospect of Americans and Iraqis dying did not make you at least a little sick to your stomach, then perhaps you have some deeper questions to ask yourself than you thought.
I raise this point because many of us are not as disgusted at the prospect of war as we should be. We all want peace and agree that war is evil . I’m not talking, about what you feel compelled to say in class or in public settings. I’m talking about what you actually feel and felt during the past months. Are we much different from those kids chasing the fight? Excited to be watching, but glad it’s not us.