I can remember a boyhood experience when one boy group picked up a glass Coke bottle and bloodied the back of another lad’s head. The perpetrator was known to us, but was not usually a part of our group. The victim went down to the ground like a rock, but did not pass out. We didn’t know whether to try to walk him home to his parents and endure their wrath that was sure to come, but we knew he needed help. I still think of that time and that event and the tongue lashing we got from the boy’s mother. And that boy was one of my best childhood friends. The problem was that — at that time and in that place — none of us expected him to be attacked that fiercely by the perpetrator or by anyone else. Maybe a fist to the shoulder, but a fist, not a glass soda bottle. We really didn’t know anyone that played like that. The Coke bottle was out of our realm of experience that day.
To a certain extent, that is the way we grew up. We had lived through World War II, but we didn’t know the seamy side of that worldwide conflagration. We had heard about Pearl Harbor and the “day of infamy,” but we hadn’t actually experienced it. Even our leaders had little or no experience with people who would, without warning, attack an American city on Sunday morning. At the age we were then, we could hardly imagine that there were people on this green earth who would attack a city like Honolulu with bombs and cannons in an attempt to kill as many military and civilian people as possible and frighten the rest of us into inaction. It simply was not fair to attack an American city on Sunday morning. Sunday was a time to go to church, visit with one’s family and neighbors, take long lazy naps, and listen to Jack Benny and The Green Hornet. Vicious war activities went beyond our experience and even our parents’ experiences. We were in a national daze and wouldn’t come out of it for a few weeks, but when we did come out of it, we came out with a vengeance.
We re-tooled our factories. We upset the routines of our family lives. Men went to war; their wives went to work in industry. And their children collected scrap newspapers, tinfoil from cigarette packages, and mashed down tin cans. Lucky Strike green went to war as did ham, white, refined sugar, fresh eggs, gasoline, rubber for tires and other war “essentials.” In about three and one half years, we defeated Germany, arguably the world’s greatest standing army at that time, we developed a devastating bomb that would not only destroy great cities, but make them uninhabitable for decades to come, pulled a coalition of non-warrior nations together into one massive warrior unit, fighting for the economic and political salvation of mankind.
We then sat back to reap the benefits of our labors. We had General Motors, Wal-Mart, Bank of America, and Hartford Insurance. We had put Europe and Asia back on their feet after the war, except for “Red” China and that was by their choice. We had domesticated ourselves while letting others do the daily drudgery of farming, wild catting for oil, as well as hustling for customers forty to sixty-five hours a week. We had saved tens of thousands of lives by intervening when floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, avalanches, mud slides, forest fires, or blizzards or any other man made or natural disaster had struck anywhere in the world. We were the St. Bernard that stood ready with our little keg of brandy to revive anybody who needed revived. Everybody loved us because we were the Salvation Army, Boy Scouts, Red Cross, and United Way for the whole world all bundled into one.
The days rolled around. The calendar pages were turned over. Suddenly it was September 2001, in fact it was the 7th of September, then the 8th, then the 9th, then the 10th, then it was 9/11 and four groups of scraggly bearded, foreign speaking guests of America’s generosity appeared to stand and rush the vulnerable moms, dads, brothers, sisters, children, teachers, clergy, salesmen, lawyers, and others who could not imagine that these people could wish us ill. After all, we had saved them from all sorts of disasters. Besides, they are our guests here tucked in here between two oceans and Canada and Mexico. It has been hard for us to imagine. It’s not that we’re stupid or lazy or Polly Anna. We just cannot imagine people treating other people this way. Suicide bombers? What is a suicide bomber? Then when we are told about suicide bombers, we are incredulous. “You’re kidding!” we exclaim. “People actually do that? People actually strap explosives around their waists and walk into a crowded venue and detonate the explosives? Amazing! Naw. Can’t be. People wouldn’t do that voluntarily. That makes no sense. And even if people do that, they wouldn’t do that to us…would they…really?”
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