The glass cases were built into the wall across from the main gym. Filled to the brim with trophies and plaques honoring students long graduated who’d brought home this or that championship. I was fixated on a basketball trophy draped with a cut net from the sixties when his hand grabbed a clump of hair on my head and whipped it back and forward with a pop, like a chest pass drill from gym class. Bloody nosed and woozy, I was barely able to turn around and see whose face it was before his fist closed my left eye.
This was the thought that permeated my fogging brain. In a moment that should have been fight or flight, my brain offered a third option, reason. If only I could reason with him, if only I could understand what had happened to set him off, perhaps we could talk, perhaps I could help him.
The aliens come down, or more to the point circle in orbit. They hijack every screen on every device on the planet. Their message is simple. We have deactivated every explosive device, every firearm, every semi-automatic, every flintlock, neutralized gun powder, deadened every bullet. If you want to kill each other go ahead, but you will have to do it hand to hand.
President Reagan argued for a small government but a large military. This never made sense to me. Dick Cheney believes there is evil in the world. His solution seems to be answering evil with an obliterating force. Washington and Jefferson both warned against foreign entanglements. Something they learned from Greek literature inspired them to design a government made up of madmen protecting a commune. I grew up an American, believing the better idea should win.
Here we are, in school, a place where we shape young minds. The content feels almost irrelevant so much as the mental calisthenics and the cultural marinade. We grade based on the ability of students to accurately solve problems, to successfully write papers, to remember things like Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. But after school we strap on pads and gloves and headgear and travel to other schools to see who can out-height, out-quick, and out-muscle or rivals. Perhaps Madison would have had the center guarding the school entrance rather than the armed police.
America is a cult retreat where the best idea wins. America is a commune run by the will of the majority. The homeland is a fortress populated by damn hippies who believe in things like justice, equality, and fairness.
In fairness, the guy who assaulted me was more oaf than jock. He never made it to college, never got out of town, never became a man of consequence. He is not a respected elder, nor a leader, nor wealthy, nor wise. My success came from physical and intellectual escape, from living a life of ideas. I never found out what set him off. But I’ve learned since that new thoughts can only thrive when they are kept separate from force. In college, where we only had non-scholarship D3 sports I blossomed.
We lie to people all the time, tell them athletics and the military can be roads to enlightenment. We talk about the lessons learned on the gridiron or the battlefield being useful later in life. Here is the truth. Hitting another man diminishes both the target and the swinger. Killing a person harms both the soldier’s and the victim’s soul. Violence can never bring about a healthy peace. It would take a hundred years after the aliens left to clean up all the karmic debt we have laid around us. Vengeance begets vengeance. Fear begets fear. And it would take that long for all the old, angry war-makers to die off.
Or I’m wrong. And somehow the dichotomy of the United States, the warrior-philosopher nation, the bully and intellectual light of the world, the enlightened sword of the dark knight can bring about a world commune at the tip of a missile. But it hasn’t been brought yet. There are no signs that our weapons will bring about peace in the Middle East, cessation of suffering in Africa, calm to Central America.
What a crazy notion. That only better ideas can bring about better ideas. That a better strategy wins the game. That coaching wins more championships than muscle. That the model is South Africa, post-aparthied, the Greek Senate, Chautauqua in the summer. That achievement by intellect is preferred to compliance at the point of a gun.
Each summer, in Las Vegas, a few thousand people put their money on the table and play, based on luck and cunning, until one person wins a trophy. They start equal. In the same desert a hundred years earlier you might have been shot in a saloon for winning. You might have been beat up for day-dreaming. You might have been dead for thinking you could think better. Wrong-headed might, might have made right.
It takes a hundred years of thought and easing tension just for us to heal.