March 24, 2008

Bullied, Terrorized, and Targeted for Destruction: Our Children Have Learned Well

This is a genuinely horrifying story, one to fuel nightmares for a lifetime:
Bullying is everywhere, including here in Fayetteville, a city of 60,000 with one of the country’s better school systems. A decade ago a Fayetteville student was mercilessly harassed and beaten for being gay. After a complaint was filed with the Office of Civil Rights, the district adopted procedures to promote tolerance and respect — none of which seems to have been of much comfort to Billy Wolfe.

It remains unclear why Billy became a target at age 12; schoolyard anthropology can be so nuanced. Maybe because he was so tall, or wore glasses then, or has a learning disability that affects his reading comprehension. Or maybe some kids were just bored. Or angry.

Whatever the reason, addressing the bullying of Billy has become a second job for his parents: Curt, a senior data analyst, and Penney, the owner of an office-supply company. They have binders of school records and police reports, along with photos documenting the bruises and black eyes. They are well known to school officials, perhaps even too well known, but they make no apologies for being vigilant. They also reject any suggestion that they should move out of the district because of this.

The many incidents seem to blur together into one protracted assault. When Billy attaches a bully’s name to one beating, his mother corrects him. “That was Benny, sweetie,” she says. “That was in the eighth grade.”


Not long after, a boy on the school bus pummeled Billy, but somehow Billy was the one suspended, despite his pleas that the bus’s security camera would prove his innocence. Days later, Ms. Wolfe recalls, the principal summoned her, presented a box of tissues, and played the bus video that clearly showed Billy was telling the truth.

Things got worse. At Woodland Junior High School, some boys in a wood shop class goaded a bigger boy into believing that Billy had been talking trash about his mother. Billy, busy building a miniature house, didn’t see it coming: the boy hit him so hard in the left cheek that he briefly lost consciousness.


In ninth grade, a couple of the same boys started a Facebook page called “Every One That Hates Billy Wolfe.” It featured a photograph of Billy’s face superimposed over a likeness of Peter Pan, and provided this description of its purpose: “There is no reason anyone should like billy he’s a little bitch. And a homosexual that NO ONE LIKES.”
There is still more.

I urge you to consider the following connections.

The United States government has bullied, terrorized and not infrequently destroyed a long series of nations and peoples of numerous nationalities for over a century: from the Philippines, to Germans during World War One (not Two, then it was the Japanese and the Germans, and the Italians as well -- and I refer here primarily to individuals in America, not overseas, while also recognizing that the U.S. committed the unjustified mass murder of civilians abroad), to Korea, Vietnam, to Lebanon, Laos, the Dominican Republic, Cambodia, Grenada, Libya, Panama, Somalia, Croatia, Haiti, Bosnia, the Sudan, and Yugoslavia -- and of course to continuing genocide in Iraq. Iran is very probably next in line. Yet these instances of terrorism -- and this list is far from complete -- are heralded as examples of the United States bringing "democracy" and "freedom" to oppressed people. Alternatively, the U.S. government lies, and most Americans believe the lies, while our politicians maintain that certain other countries represented "grave threats" to our national security or to our "vital interests." In most instances, they were such threats only on the premise that any nation that dares to disobey our government's arbitrary commands constitutes a "threat," that any nation that will not do as it is told is a threat. America is God on Earth. America's Will be done.

When you add to this list of crimes the genocide of Native Americans and the forcible importation of human slaves and the centuries of barbarism unleashed on them, it can be seen that such crimes stretch back to the beginnings of this nation.

We do not speak of the truth of this history. When we do discuss history, we lie about every aspect of importance. Barack Obama recently denounced and disowned central aspects of the truth of our history. On the points of greatest importance, Jeremiah Wright had spoken truthfully. Obama wants to be president. You cannot be president if you tell or acknowledge the truth, so Obama denied it.

Our children are taught that we equate "manliness" and "strength" with close to complete disregard for other people, with emotional repression and insensitivity to the point of catatonia, and with a willingness to resort to physical violence at the slightest provocation, and even in the complete absence of any provocation at all. We tell those people who suffer great emotional pain and even agony, often when they contemplate the terrible suffering of others, to "suck it up" and to have "thicker skins." The greatest virtue is to feel nothing, or as close to nothing as possible. There is one exception: you can feel unreasoning, unfocused rage, and you are free to act on it. You may lash out in any direction you choose. The innocence of your victim is irrelevant.

Our government acts in this manner repeatedly. Our political leaders all applaud it, and offer a lengthy series of "justifications" for our unending national cruelty.

As I discussed in my essays about the high school students who protested the Iraq occupation, and who were threatened with suspension and expulsion for displaying a seriousness and humanity that is absent in most adults and in almost all our political leaders, the central lesson imparted to children is the necessity of obedience to authority. See "Careful the Things You Do: Wishes Come True, Not Free," and "When Awareness Is a Crime, and Other Lessons from Morton West" for the details. The high school students were taught that the idea of impartial and "blind" justice is a lie -- they learned that adults are usually lying when they insist the cruelties they inflict on children are for the children's "own good," just as our political leaders insist the horrors of Iraq are for the "good" of the Iraqi people -- they were taught that institutions of authority and the people who implement their policies will lie about anything and everything -- and they learned that the extent of your awareness of the world around you, and the extent of your sensitivity to and concern for the sanctity of human life, will be the extent to which you are punished.

They learned that cruelty and violence are not to be condemned, but constitute the coin of the nightmare realm of our culture: cruelty and violence are enacted many times every day in films, on television, in our personal lives, and by our government on a national and international scale. You will be rewarded for cruelty: the crueler you are, the greater the reward.

Our culture teaches children that, if you are perceived as "weak" or "fragile" or "delicate" or "sensitive," and if you are a boy or a man -- well, then, you are probably a queer, a faggot, a freak. Freaks are not fully human, which makes them excellent subjects for laboratory experiments. Endless cruelty can be inflicted on freaks, and your friends -- and many adults -- will honor you for it. And freaks certainly cannot get married. Even Barack Obama says that he prefers "civil unions" to gay marriage, for civil unions are more than good enough for freaks. Separate and not equal is fine for freaks. Obama is also not above more vicious instances of ridiculing freaks.

Our children learn all this, and many more lessons of the same kind. Of course, they are often vicious bullies. Our government is a murderous bully on a scale that beggars description; most politicians are bullies; the majority of adults are bullies to varying degrees. Why wouldn't these children be bullies? It's what they've been taught. In the most crucial ways, it's all they've been taught.

These children are the perfect embodiments of the central values of our culture. They have learned well.

But, many people will say, this is monstrous. We must teach these children that such behavior is deeply wrong, and that they must change. To all such people, I reply: Then change yourselves. Change your values, and change the way you think and act. Children will see those changes, and their own behavior will alter accordingly in time.

Change yourselves. Start today. Start right now.