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Why the bully can't win hearts and minds


Here on American soil, it’s another fraternity, another victim and another attempt to hide allegations in order to protect a reputation. According to a recent article in the New York Times, the Department of Education is moving to fire a principal from the Street Academy High School in Brooklyn due to his mishandling of a student’s hazing incident.


On another front, it’s been reported that the Pentagon is considering whether or not to reopen an inquiry into the case of four Iraqis who were employees of Western news organizations. Three of the men who were employed by Reuters and one for NBC News were arrested and abused in early January after attempting to report the downing of an American helicopter near Falluja. The possibility of reopening the case comes after Seymore Hersh’s book “Chain of Command” details the horrors that were done to those we are detaining at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

Whether it be a testosterone-filled football camp, a high society fraternity or an army prison, how do we propose to win the hearts and minds of the Middle East population with education, when we of the so-called civilized world have very little to be emulated?

The dictates from what had been ratified at the Geneva Convention for the protection of the wounded war personnel demand that not only are the war detainees to be treated in a fair manner, but that those doing the detaining should respect said agreement. Tragically and incomprehensibly, those who forcefully entered Iraq with the intention of eliminating weapons of mass destruction were suddenly doing heinous deeds at the orders of their commanding officers, Geneva Convention or not, to those they’d gone to free.

There are those who rightfully raise up fists in anger for what has been done in the Middle East, from what Saddam did to his own people, to what we are doing to those same people. The reports of the deaths and assaults done by the so-called liberators to those who had been held captive for years by their dictator are confounding, disgusting and infuriating. But when it happens by us to those who are somehow under our command, be it in a fraternity or prison, one asks if the hearts have become evil and the minds vacuous.

Something valuable is lost if we continue to close our eyes to these horrors, and there is enough blame to go around. The desensitizing violence that is constant from all sorts of media is culpable. The often irreproachable and indifferent demeanor from those who should be held responsible for their lawless deeds is another. What happened at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and now Forward Operating Base Volturno where the four Iraqis were detained, needs to be investigated and people charged, but as a society we need to begin at home.

There has been a serious loss of respect for one another. Not the kind of respect the cops tried to physically coerce from Abner Louima, but a respect that begins at an early age. Somewhere between the time a toddler demands his or her way to when they create full sentences, there should be the gentle teachings of respect for others. True, each generation looks to the new with a disbelief shaking of the head, even though each generation often brings betterment to the next in countless ways.
From pre-school on, certain classmates have always been the target of bullies for one reason or another. It is a power trip for the bully to see the control he or she can gain over their subject.

Occasionally, adults try to abate the teasing, taunting and outright cruelty by intercepting, but most other times they incorporate the ineffectual platitude that begins, “Sticks and stones will break your bones.” We have crossed the line, however, when older classmates feel it is their right to use a broomstick in the act of rape on younger classmates as a hazing ritual, which was what occurred in a football camp in Pennsylvania some time ago and involved a high school where this writer’s children had attended.

I recall when my son was in this very same high school several years ago having to defend his right to wear a baseball cap while in the school building. It became a large issue with the administration and involved meetings and conferences. It was my son’s battle to fight, but he had my full support, especially when I witnessed his peers smoking on school grounds and speeding their souped up cars through the school parking lot. I suppose it was easier to make the hat a distraction from what the school board could not control. For him, it was a teenager’s fashion statement, not an expression of religious culture as are the head scarves required for fundamentalist Muslim women, and my son eventually relented.

Even though it is on a much larger scale, it is not so far off the course from when certain people in power want to censure the readings of the names of those who died in a battle that had been dubiously instigated or photograph the line of coffins of those who died doing what they felt was their duty. Administrations, from school to government, magnify what should be inconsequential in order to downplay what is actually occurring, even discomforting, and we need to learn to discern the difference.

Sadly, there is no quick fix, and as the hazings and rituals continue, so do the violence and mindless acts. Private first class Lynndie R. England and Corporal Charles Graner, Jr. have been charged in the abuse of Abu Ghraib prisoners and are awaiting the consequences while also having recently become parents. One wonders if they acknowledge the weight of parental responsibility; one wonders if we as a community do, as well.

Maybe the examples being set are something we as parents, teachers and responsible adults need to examine. Perhaps our children need to witness people who do not elbow his or her way past the rest in order to get the best seat on the train. Perhaps our children need to witness people who take time to listen instead of shouting down each other. Perhaps our children need to witness what it means to respect one another, regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or being a war detainee. And, perhaps, our children need to witness these people, us that is, willing to defend the underling, so that weapons of massive destruction, like broomsticks, will not even enter one’s thoughts.

Otherwise, what do we have to offer not only to the outside world, but to ourselves?


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