Grade school in the early ’70s. My walk-home routine often consisted of watching over my shoulder for bullies. They’d usually follow you, so you knew they were coming. Half of your fear (and their fun) was just waiting for the assault. Rarely on the school grounds, of course, unless they were so mad about something that they couldn’t hold back. The usual method was to trail you by forty or fifty feet until you were out of sight of teachers and patrol kids, then come up behind you with the attack of the day, sometimes pushing and name calling, often spitting or tossing your books. You knew they were coming, but you couldn’t run. Running would just get their attention if they weren’t already out to get you, and for some reason bullies were always good runners. Perhaps being unencumbered by schoolbooks had something to do with it. Anyway, even if you managed to get away, you’d just end up being labled as a coward or worse.
It was fifth grade or so before I had my first successful interaction with a bully. “You’re dead after school” was the usual youthful exaggeration, and I was informed of this fact sometime about halfway through the school day. Fed up with living in fear, and this being one of the lesser bullies, I mustered the courage to look him in the eyes. “Okay, you can fight me, and we both know you’ll probably win,” I said, “but I have to be honest, I’m not going to stand there and let you pound on me. I’ll fight you back as best I can.” I left the school that day through my usual door at my usual time. I can’t lie–I was scared, but I was ready. I looked for him in the schoolyard. I looked for him all the way home. I never saw him. He never bothered me again, and I had finally learned something at school that didn’t involve math or geography.
I thought about these things yesterday. Someone, still unidentified, decided to strike fear into the hearts and guts of Americans by destroying some airplanes and buildings with people in them. No one has taken credit for this act, and they probably won’t. That’s just perfect, and so typical of a bully. On a macrocosmic scale, it’s still the same old schoolyard attitude–cowardice cloaked in violence. Somewhere in the world, a brain, if you can call it that, conceived of this operation. Now it hides, smugly believing it has achieved whatever unfathomable goals it set. In reality, it struck out blindly and wildly, convincing someone else to do the actual work, die the actual death.
No doubt, upset with it’s lot in life, it chose this as some obscene way to rectify the things it finds wrong on this planet. I have news for it: The people you killed yesterday had no more thought for you or your lot in life than a forest does for a leaf. Moreover, they weren’t the source of your problems. Almost all of them were regular schmoes like me who go to work in the morning and return home in the evening to the family and the mortgage payment. Now they’re gone, and you can’t even scrape together the courage to tell us why.
Perhaps if you had tried to stand up and speak out for yourself and your cause, you might have achieved justice or whatever it is you’re looking for. Americans are a caring people–we proved that yesterday–and we just might have paid attention to you. That’s the beauty of a free society. We can listen even if our leaders don’t.
Instead, we stand here now in the schoolyard of the world. You, the bully, successfully blindsided us. Congratulations. We didn’t see it coming and we weren’t ready. You gave us your best shot and hit us with an assault that was obviously years in the planning and of epic proportions.
We took the punch. We’re still standing. This isn’t over.