General Thomas thought being in charge of the North American Command would be a cakewalk. Even with the war on terrorism, he never expected anything more than police work, disaster relief, or, Heaven forbid, the shooting down of a plane. But nobody expected anything like this. Norman Thomas may have been named after a socialist — the burden of idealistic parents — but he was born to be a soldier. Still, no amount of training could have prepared him for this.
During the Vietnam War, when the know-nothings called him a baby killer, he always knew they were liars using insults to mask their own shame, cowardice, or ignorance about the way the world really is. But this…this turned everything on its head. Now, the soldier who championed honor above all else, was a baby killer. Or at least he might have to be.
But that wouldn’t be easy, Thomas thought, when the baby in question was 200-feet tall and surrounded by American citizens who wouldn’t let him get a clean shot….
No one knew for sure where the baby came from or why he was so massive, let alone why he was named Sol. It didn’t really matter from Thomas’s point of view. The monster baby might appear adorable, but it had already killed thousands of people, shaking many victims like rattles until their necks snapped. A local TV reporter caught the giant infant plucking a man from a third-story window. The toddler chewed up the man, using his “tiny” baby teeth (intelligence indicated he had three front teeth and at least one canine) to turn the pitiable soul into mush. The footage played around the world for days.
But most of his victims died in a horrific wet crunch from the massive toddler’s huge baby feet. Sol may have had an unsteady gait when it came to walking (and he destroyed more than a few houses and cars when he fell backwards onto his rump), but he could run like the dickens in stomping spurts that shook the ground. And with a stride of 100 feet, that meant he could move fast. When he stood still, he could stomp fleeing humans with glee.
Indeed, it was the glee, the mirthful joy of a human child, which made the carnage so unreal. If seen against the right backdrop — and from a safe distance — Sol looked like a giggling child, killing ants with his foot, as if his mother or father were watching from a nearby park bench. And Sol was a giggling child. But he simply wasn’t killing ants.
Regardless, it was these images that made an already unfathomable situation — a 200-foot-tall baby! — into the Hieronymus Bosch nightmare it had become. When it was clear that the military was being called in to stop the carnage and restore order, the protests began. “He’s just a baby!” “He’s innocent!” “Who knows what kind of potential he has!” Internet rumors that the baby was a military experiment sprouted up almost instantaneously. When MSNBC showed footage of the child playing with a school bus like it was just a toy, public opinion shifted even more sharply. In another incident, when soldiers used rubber bullets to keep the colossal toddler from destroying an old-age home, Sol began crying uncontrollably (in his arm-waving tantrum, he destroyed a radio tower). A Gallup Poll found that 68 percent of Americans believed the government should take “extraordinary measures” to contain the baby without causing it harm or “undue distress.” That number dropped to 51 percent if that meant the deaths of more Americans.
East Coast newspapers began editorializing for mercy; in a column titled “Get Away Kid, You’re Bothering Me,” Maureen Dowd flatly called the president of the United States an “upper-crust W. C. Fields . . . who only cares about children when they’re in the womb or in the hands of a nanny at a safe distance from Dad.”
Nelson Mandela insisted that South Africa would take the baby and keep him on a game preserve where he could play freely with elephants, away from an environment which would condone violence to a baby of any size. He added that if the baby had been black, President Bush would not have hesitated to use nuclear weapons. The National Council of Churches held an emergency meeting and issued a communiqué, reprinted in part in an ad in the Washington Post. “Mr. President, You Were a Baby Once Too” blared the headline. Most of the Democratic congressional leadership signed the ad, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, which surprised some, as the giant baby had crushed 15 of her constituents to death in a single afternoon in Haight-Ashbury. “What happened to those people was a tragedy,” she explained to the San Francisco Chronicle. “But Sol is a victim too. And two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Some libertarian and conservative groups also got into the act. Legal gadfly Larry Klayman insisted that the baby was an unarmed American citizen and petitioned the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to appoint him its legal guardian so he could represent the creature in court. Some conservative scholars argued that while the threat certainly needed to be dealt with, the Posse Commitatus Act prevented the Army from taking any action against an American citizen on our own soil. Former congressman Bob Barr asked the Supreme Court to rule that only the California state militia or police had jurisdiction over the monster-child.
Scientists quickly chimed in, too, claiming that the baby should at least be studied. “Not only does he have the potential to grow into a productive member of society,” the dean of Harvard Medical School insisted, “but he may have more potential to save lives than the rain forests and stem cells combined.” A host of Hollywood stars suffering from various medical problems gave impromptu press conferences expressing hope that this giant baby might contain the cure for their ailments. There was talk that Barbra Streisand was going to hold a concert. George Clooney told Charlie Rose that he’d leave the country if anything bad happened to that baby. “Save the Baby” bumper stickers sprouted up like mushrooms. Right to life bumper stickers were being written-over; people were putting a “Y” over the “ies” on their “Save the Babies” bumper stickers.
Gen. Thomas didn’t relish the thought of doing harm to the child either. He had three normal-sized children of his own. But it seemed lost on most of these people that this enormous creature — who was slightly taller than the movie-monster Godzilla and much taller than the original King Kong — had killed thousands of people and destroyed billions of dollars worth of property. The colossal tot had smashed huge chunks of the California Interstate and permanently destroyed much of the San Francisco skyline. Insatiable, the baby had quickly learned to eat anything or anyone that might keep his belly full. More than once he ground actual people into a fine paste so he could lick his fingers. The military moved giant chemical trucks filled with milk — and a sedative — but that ended in disaster as it only seemed to make the baby gassy and extremely cranky. The day ended with the Trans America building in smoldering ashes.
It was only a matter of time before “human shields” arrived. Now Gen. Thomas was at a real loss about what to do. In this part of northern California it was almost impossible to prevent them from chaining themselves to cars, trees, etc. And the migration didn’t seem to stop even as the nightly news showed images of the baby snatching the protesters from the ground, effortlessly snapping their chains. Sometimes the baby would just stare at the frightened figure for a few moments until he grew bored. Then he would drop the hapless man or woman, who would fall to a certain death on the ground below. Occasionally, if the victim screamed or struggled too much, Sol would hurl the victim in a fit of rage. His massive arm, rounded by gentle folds of baby fat, served as an improbably massive catapult, launching the human cargo hundreds of yards into the air. If Gen. Thomas listened closely, he could almost hear them scream before the inevitable crunch, “it’s not your faaaaaaauuuult…….!”
WHAT’S THE “BIG” IDEA?
Okay, I apologize for indulging myself here. But for years this has been one of my favorite “what if?” scenarios. Of course, it’s implausible that a giant baby would terrorize a city. But it’s no more implausible than a giant fire- or acid-breathing lizard or ape terrorizing a city. In fact, apes and lizards are pretty docile. Babies can be terrors. The tagline for the original Godzilla movie was “Incredible, unstoppable titan of terror!” Well, that would work just fine for a huge baby tearing apart a city. And as I’ve tried to suggest above, an adorable baby would be a lot more incredible and a lot more unstoppable than a lizard.
If a horrible-looking monster set upon humanity we — with the exception of a few PETA types — would understand it to be a threat and destroy it. But there’s no rule of nature that says evil monsters have to be scary looking. As people from the western U.S. will tell you, grizzly bears may be awfully cute, but they’ll still eat your pancreas without so much as a “by your leave.”
This point was hammered home in that great triumph of American cinema, Ghostbusters, when the heroes are told to choose the instrument of their destruction. Dr. Raymond Stantz (played by Dan Aykroyd) foolishly conjures the image of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, who suddenly appears to crush humanity. Stantz’s reasoning is simple. “I tried to think of the most harmless thing . . . something that could never destroy us . . . something I loved from my childhood,” he explains apologetically.
In an interview, Aykroyd explained the thinking behind using a 112-foot-tall marshmallow man: “Mr. Stay-Puft is really just a brand symbol — like the Michelin tire man or the Pillsbury Doughboy — who has come out of the American consciousness and is then thrown back in our faces by Gozer. [The evil god in the film.] It’s like: ‘You created this white monster to sell your products, and it seems harmless and puff and cute — but given the right circumstances, everything can be turned back and become evil.’”
And that’s the real moral of my odd tale. We all have a tendency to look at other people and events in terms of categories instead of unique, individual circumstances. Racism, for example, is the tendency to look at an individual of a certain race and judge him by your notions about the category he belongs to. If you meet a black guy named Joe and you ignore everything he says and does and merely judge him by the fact he falls into the category of “black people,” you’re, fundamentally, a racist.
This highlights why liberals can be racists too. After all, there are plenty of liberals who are willing to excuse Joe’s bad behavior simply because he’s black, just as there are plenty of racists who are all too eager to ignore Joe’s good behavior, just because he’s black. College-bound black kids are treated as a category first and individuals second, by a system that assumes blacks as a group can’t compete.
Liberals do this with all sorts of categories of victim. “Oppressed peoples” are exempt from blame when they commit horrible atrocities because “oppressed peoples” are, by definition, victims. Men, especially black men, on death row get special dispensation because they are being, again by definition, wrongly punished. Growing up, I was often terrorized by the dangerously deranged homeless people who lived on the streets of my neighborhood. I could never figure out why the New York Times kept treating them like benign hobos. Anita Hill couldn’t be lying because “women” — a vast category of humans comprising the majority of people in the United States — “don’t make these things up.”
Conservatives do this sort of thing too, of course. And it’s not always a bad thing. If we didn’t draw up categories to argue about there would be no such thing as data, only anecdotes. So it’s not thinking categorically that bothers me so much as what people do with those categories that rubs me the wrong way. In fact, I suspect that this gets to the heart of most ideological differences.
For example, when some member of al Qaeda who happens to have American citizenship is captured in Afghanistan and is held without trial here in the states, I say “Wahoo!” because I see him in the category of enemy, terrorist, bad guy. Other people get extremely upset because they see him in the category of American citizen. The difference, as I see it, is that I’m obviously right on the facts. Those who want to make men like Yaser Esam Hamdi — the actual American citizen captured in Afghanistan — into a symbol must first ignore the fact that he actually is an enemy combatant captured on foreign soil. They must use wildly literary “what-ifs” and wacky it-could-happen-to-you scenarios to get people upset about his plight.
And this is the problem with the critics of the war on terrorism and to an extent the looming war with Iraq. Particularly in the British press, overly clever literary leftists denounce America and defend terrorists because, as they say, moronically, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” In their more than vaguely Marxist schema, “oppressed peoples” are always justified in committing horrific violence and “oppressors” can never act in morally justified self-defense. Often — too often — this boils down to the racist and maternalistic deceit that any barbarity can be condoned if it is committed by darker-skinned peoples against lighter-skinned peoples. This sort of buffoonery is still mistaken for interesting and important by many people in the academy. Norman Mailer’s The White Negro told us that black crime was manly and therefore admirable rebellion and Franz Fanon declared that “Violence is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores his self-respect.” Even today Fanon is required reading in “post-colonial studies,” a discipline desperately in need of a good flush. Indeed, it seems that many “intellectuals” see violent, repressive, horrific, third-world movements — which kill far more people than a giant Stay-Puft Man ever could — as worthy of defending and protecting simply because they love oppressed people as a category so much.
Children, particularly babies, are obviously the only truly blameless category of human being. That’s why so many politicians invoke “the children” as a justification for every imaginable cause. (And, by the way, that’s why there’s nothing inherently inconsistent with being pro-life and pro-death penalty. Babies do nothing wrong. Murderers are a whole different category). And that’s why I thought up Sol, the giant baby. If a giant monster goes strolling through San Francisco, wantonly killing people, and taking great pleasure in it, we’re all comfortable with the idea of doing violence to it. But change the category from slithering monster to cooing baby or “oppressed peoples” and leftists put on their blinders. They think if we just give Hamas or Saddam or bin Laden what they want — “independence,” “respect,” “reparations” whatever — everything will be fine.
Well, to me, they sound like Bill Murray in Ghostbusters when he declares, “We’ve been going about this all wrong. This Mister Stay-Puft is okay. He’s a sailor, he’s in New York. We get this guy laid, we won’t have any trouble!”