DAILY BRIEFINGFor the Children
Apr. 20 - Today is Hitler's birthday, so let that be a warning to you.
It's also the fifth anniversary of the terrible shooting tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. For the past couple of years on this date I've dedicated the Almanac to arguing on behalf of what I think may be the only viable solution to the increasing violence in our nation’s schools. That essay follows.
* * *
St. Augustine wrote, “if babies are innocent, it is not for lack of will to do harm, but for lack of strength.” The observation is almost superfluous today: lack of strength isn’t much of an obstacle when a grade-schooler can fit a nine-millimeter in his knapsack, and the human will to do harm is as strong as ever. With every new tragedy we wring our hands and gnash our teeth and put on sackcloth and ashes, we vow to end the bloodshed, we demand that it end, our political leaders promise to end it, and then we go back to whatever it is we do when we’re not choking on moral outrage. For example, water-skiing.
Some of us blame the NRA, as lately personified by Charlton Heston, some find fault with Hollywood. But I believe the answer lies not with our stars, that we are brutes, but with our history. Thucydides, Herodotus, Machiavelli, Gibbon, Prescott, Churchill: our species has provided itself with a certain class of specialist, most of whom will be familiar to readers of this peculiar almanac. Historians reveal us to ourselves with an honesty that is not often found in either the promotional material of the NRA or the pyrotechnic fabulism of Hollywood.
There is not much comfort to be drawn from their honesty.
Since the dawn of civilization, human history has been a violent and bloody parade of horrors. (Noted German syphilitic Friedrich Nietzsche observed that human history was “the refutation by example of a moral world order.”) In the earliest pages of the earliest books to have survived, Cain kills Abel, Sri Krishna urges Arjuna to kill his relatives, heroes dismember one another on the fields of Troy. Empires rise and fall on the backs of their soldiers. Peace is won with blood. In the whole vast human saga, there has only been one long and protracted period of relative peace among the major powers of the dominant civilizations. It was a period that came, not surprisingly, after some of the bleakest and bloodiest chapters in our history. We’re living in that period. (Yes, terrorism is a scourge and the war to end it is hardly non-violent, but it has not yet involved, nor is it likely to, a confrontation between major states.)
What brought us this relative peace? Look to history. Democracy? Think Robespierre and Danton. Think Weimar. Fraternity? Think Aryan purity. Think ethnic cleansing. Spirituality? Think Crusades. Think Inquisition. Technology? Well, it’s true that almost every technological advance has fostered an improvement in our ability to kill one another. But take that reasoning to its extreme, acknowledge that we have at last perfected that ability—that we’ve enabled ourselves to wipe out whole nations by remote control, and the truth pours forth. One thing, and one thing only, has stabilized the world for the past half century, and that thing is a big metal hull containing a device that, when triggered, can reduce an entire city to smoldering ruin.
That thing is the bomb. In its shadow, peace prospers.
If we want to save our children—and we all want to save our children—we have to face up to the horror of ourselves. We must be honest enough to acknowledge that St. Augustine was right, and that so long as children have the means, they will always have the will to do harm. They will do so not because they are some strange and terrible new breed of children, but because they are exactly like each and every one of us that came before them, the only difference being that they’re better armed.
If we truly want to save our children, we can. We need only follow the example provided by history. We must give them nuclear weapons.
As we continue de-escalating from the cold war and dismantling the thousands and thousands of warheads manufactured at its peak, we can redistribute them to our nation’s primary schools. Two of them to each to school, secretly given to two different sixth-graders. We have seen what mutually assured destruction can do on the geopolitical stage: imagine what wonders it could work in the schoolyard!
What child would dare to bring a mere pistol to school—a machine gun, a grenade, a flame-thrower, even a rocket launcher—after getting a note like this in homeroom:
“Jimmy’s got the bomb. Pass it on.”
We can make our schools safe again. We only need the resolve.
And a little plutonium.
The word of the day is at lide, meaning to suffer. It does not mean to like, as I'd always assumed. How could I get the words mixed up so terribly? Because "I like" in Danish is translated as "jeg kan godt lide," or "I can well suffer (or bear)." Similarly, "I don't like" is "jeg kan ikke lide," or "I cannot suffer (or bear)." In other words, Danes don't say whether or not they actually like things, but whether they can put up with them.
I find that oddly charming.
Birthdays and Holidays
Today is St. George’s Day in Canada.
Hitler (1889) shares his birthday with Joey Lawrence (1976), Carmen Electra (1972), Clint Howard (1959), Jessica Lange (1949), Ryan O'Neal (1941), Nina Foch (1924), and Harold Lloyd (1893).
© 2004, The Moron's Almanac