— The Fugs, Johnny Pissoff Meets the Red Angel
I accidentally ran over and killed a toad while mowing the lawn one day last summer. This may sound a bit over the top, but the incident made me very sad. While I have no compunction about swatting and murdering pesky mosquitoes or flies, I honestly feel remorse in killing, even accidentally, such wonderful creatures as these beneficial amphibians.
Perhaps my feelings stem from dark memories deep within my childhood, when “friends” would gleefully torture, mutilate and destroy toads and frogs in my presence and then laugh about it. I went along with them, not wanting to cause any trouble, yet deep down I knew there was something horribly and morally wrong in killing defenseless animals just for the thrill of it. Toads and frogs never did anything to harm us — in fact they’ve helped us — so why would any of us want to harm them, especially “just for fun?” Because we can.
I learned at a tender age that some people get a sick kick out of dishing out pain and suffering to others, especially the weak and vulnerable. Some often call such people sadists. Some occasionally call them heroes.
“Friends” from my long lost past who took such savage glee too often wound up in one of four places — prison, on welfare, in the military or on a police force. The ones who landed in a prison cell obviously lacked intelligence and moral fiber. But what about the others?
One example was a juvenile delinquent I occasionally hung out with in my early teens who got into a lot of trouble with the law. He finally got kicked out of school at 16 and then a year later went into the military, where it was believed his life would be turned around, much like former Gov. John Engler’s “punk prisons” were supposed to do with such youthful incorrigibles. The lad shipped out to fight in Vietnam and came back to my hometown a couple of years later a hero who would speak to VFW groups about how the U.S. government wasn’t letting us win the war in southeast Asia. As far as I could tell, he was still that same incorrigible youth who had been expelled from school. But now, instead of being branded a local teen thug, he was viewed as a military man of honor.
Another friend who served in Vietnam told me he once arrived at a village where it was clear American teen-agers had been engaging in the sport of shooting tin cans off the heads of Vietnamese villagers, a la William Tell. And if they missed, so what?
My friend lectured them sternly and asked why they could engage in such savage conduct. Their answer was, “They’re just gooks.”
They’re just frogs and toads, but killing them for pleasure could reveal moral disturbances that later could translate into bigger things, like other human beings.
Unfortunately, war thrusts our young men and women into situations in which they must kill or be killed. Sometimes they react to the stress by going berserk. They can learn to enjoy it all like an addictive drug, or become indifferent to the terrible process of killing or maiming another human being. And it really gets awful when the people you’re killing or maiming really did nothing to deserve this fate except be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I fear those who go off to war to enjoy the adrenaline high of danger and killing. Too many have trouble adjusting to civilian life when they return from their tours of duty. Too many miss being with their “band of brothers” whom they would die for, because they’re like a team of special people facing horrible and difficult tasks together.
This “band of brothers” concept was big in the Oscar-winning movie “The Hurt Locker,” in which one of the key players cannot adjust to life in America and goes back to the Middle East because he must continue to experience that addictive high in the game of “kill or be killed.”
I’ve personally known soldiers who came back home, but would go back to war in a heartbeat to serve with their brethren under horrible, dangerous conditions. And when one of these soldiers is killed or maimed, we fall all over ourselves to praise and exalt him, even though his assigned task was to kill people who never did any harm to us, such as the people of Iraq and the vast majority of the people of Afghanistan.
I’ll never forget a small town mom and dad of a slain soldier really enjoying being grand marshals of a community welcome home parade. They wound up sacrificing their son, but being exalted for one big day somehow made it all worth it.
I’ve known police officers who could have become lifelong prison inmates, but instead chose to be exalted for bullying people and cracking heads. The difference between a lifelong crook and a lifelong cop may be that the latter got religion. Otherwise, they might be the same.
I recall the wise words of columnist Coleman McCarthy: “If violence really solved problems, what a peaceful world we’d have.”