By Lex, on Tue – March 23, 2004
When my son was only three or four years old, we rented “American Werewolf in London * ” and brought it home to watch. I remembered the film as light-hearted and funny, never thinking for a moment what the impact might be of some of the gory stuff on a young mind – he was the first kid, the experiment. We learned along the way. We hadn’t watched very much when we realized it probably wasn’t suitable for him, and stopped the tape until he’d gone to bed. After he was asleep, the Hobbit and I resumed watching it. At one point, while the protagonist is changing from human to lupine form, with his hand elongating into a claw, complete with sprouting fur and nails, we heard a gasp behind us. The Critter had woken up, and snuck back into the room just in time to see this scene. I remember the look of wide-eyed shock on his face, a look of innocence lost. He looked at us and said, “That can happen?”
No, kiddo, we explained. It’s just TV, just make-believe. There’s no such thing as monsters.
But that really isn’t true, is it?
When I came home from deployment, on September 14th 2001, aside from all the usual stresses that come from re-uniting with a family long-used to making due in my absence, we had to find a way to talk about what had happened a few days earlier. Some way that would make sense to my two young daughters. And frankly I didn’t immediately trust myself to talk about it with them, which was probably a mistake. But I was still choked with emotion myself, and because I’m a guy I don’t deal with that very well, and I didn’t have an answer to the “that can happen?” question in their shining eyes that made sense, even to me.
The older of the two was ten years old, and used to love to put jigsaw puzzles together. She got one the next week, and started right to work on it. And although she has always loved them, and has great powers of concentration, she really put a lot of effort into this one. As it took form, I started to understand why – it was the New York skyline, before 9/11. When she got to the part of the puzzle that included the WTC, she kept taking it apart and putting it back together again. Trying to make sense of it. Trying to fix it, to make it better. She’d put it together, and smooth her little hand across it. There. Then she’d frown in thought, and take it apart and put it back together again. And pat it down again, like the magic powers of an imaginative 10 year old could make it all go away. And I couldn’t instantly think of a way to stop her, or even if I should and it broke my heart.
My younger daughter suddenly became interested in the “Twin Towers,” and New York, as had all her classmates. She’d ask about how tall they were, but you could tell that wasn’t the question she was really asking – she simply lacked the vocabulary to ask how this could happen, and what did it mean. She lacked a vocabulary for evil. There were crayon drawings of tall buildings, and flowers and the ocean and the sun, but no airplanes. They didn’t want to draw any airplanes.
So eventually we had to talk it out, because nothing grows in a child’s heart like the fear their parents won’t even name. I had to explain that were bad people in the world, people that hated us for what we were, people willing to hurt us. “Like monsters,” the youngest added.
“Kind of like that,” I answered. But then I added that they didn’t have to worry, that their dad and all his friends would make sure that it wouldn’t happen again. That dad had lots of friends who were really strong and really good about this kind of thing, protecting good people, and punishing bad ones.
And I really hope that’s true. But I am not sure that it is, and hope as they say, is not a strategy. So I can understand it when other people take more active measures, such as the ones the Israeli government recently used to kill a monster .
Quick: Name me a terrorist leader who has lost one of his children to martyrdom. His own children. Fine, I’ll give you some time… Anyone?
Give you a little help (from Bret Stephens, in today’s WSJ, subscription required):
“To date, there has not been a single instance in which a Hamas leader sent one of his own sons or daughters on a suicide mission. I once interviewed a Hamas leader, since deceased, as he bounced his one-year-old girl on his knee. Contrary to myth, this was not a man who was afraid of nothing. Unsparing as he was with the lives of others, he was circumspect when it came to the lives of his own.”
So yeah, I think it takes a monster to hand someone else’s children over to bomb makers, while sheltering your own. It takes a monster to send that child, his mind filled with venom, in the midst of people just trying to get to work, or school, or home, with a backpack filled with explosives and poised soaked nails. It takes a monster to hold up that child’s acts as worth of emulation, and postulate that a loving, merciful God will hold a special place in heaven open for him. And I cannot find it in my heart to shed a tear for dead monsters.
Imagine that 9/11 happened every other week or so, right here at home. Or is that too horrible to contemplate? OK – how about Oklahoma City? Imagine that every week to ten days something like that happened, right there in the state that you and your family live in. And every time it happened and you heard the sirens your blood ran cold, and you tried to call your loved ones on the cell phone but couldn’t get through, because everyone else was calling too and the system was overwhelmed. And each time you told your kids it would be OK, and that you would protect them, and punish those responsible, but you didn’t really believe it yourself, and you knew that they didn’t really believe you either. Until everyone you knew had lost someone, and some had lost everyone, and you knew that your time was just about come. You knew that the odds were against you, that one of these times it would be someone you loved. Only a matter of time.
And now imagine that the people responsible for these atrocities were operating in plain view, in the next state over, but that that state’s government wouldn’t do anything about it because they had their own problems, and anyway there was this ongoing dispute about property lines and water rights. And when you talked to those in power over there, their mouths would frown about how regrettable it all was, but in their eyes you could see that they were measuring you for your coffin.
What would you be prepared to do?
So Sheik Yassin got his martyrdom, which is what he said he always wanted . I guess a part of me wishes that it hadn’t happened. Not because he didn’t deserve it. But because the Israelis (and perhaps we ourselves) don’t deserve what’s probably going to happen because of it.
But then again, we never did.
*06-29-18 Links gone – Ed.