Friday, March 21, 2008


The little boy was only four years old but he was very clear about what he wanted and fiercely determined to get it. He’d seen the big policeman on the corner directing traffic. All dressed in blue—the sun glinting off that golden badge on his chest. The little boy gazed in awe at the power of that one man who merely by raising his arm could stop dozens of automobiles in an instant.

It was definitely power the little boy wanted most of all. For his life at age four was surrounded of course by the miasma of helplessness. Just to have a breakfast relieve the hunger in his belly he had to rely on the “big people” to prepare it. They, wonder of wonders, knew just where to get the milk and cornflakes, the orange juice and eggs. But he—he hadn’t the foggiest idea where to obtain what he needed to even feed himself. He hated that helplessness. And he hated that moment when he awakened from those horrible dreams of monsters about to devour him; when he called out in panic for his mother who comforted him. And what if some night his mother wasn’t there to come when he called? Helplessness again! How he hated the thought of being small and powerless.

But to be a policeman, with the power to make everybody do what you wanted them to, when you wanted them to—that must be wonderful! A policeman would know what to do with monsters in the frightening blackness of the night. A policeman would order someone to bring what he needed to lose that hunger at breakfast time. Just the thing to deal with that awful feeling of helplessness! So when winter came, and with it a chance to write a letter to Santa Claus, what did he ask Santa to bring him on Christmas morning? A policeman’s uniform, of course. That would just about solve everything, wouldn’t it?

And sure enough, it happened. As he tore off the tissue paper and ribbons, there it was! Complete with a shiny badge for his breast, a blue, visored cap for his head and even a brightly varnished billy club. Just the thing to make people do what you wanted them to do, when you wanted them to do it. He even got the chance to try out this wonderful new power. For, dressed in his new uniform, carrying that magical billy club, he began to cross the street walking between his parents, holding their hands. About halfway across the intersection, he stopped, pulled his hands free and raised them, palm outward, just as he’d seen the policeman do. And then came the thrill—coursing up from the bottom of his spine, clear to the nape of his neck. For all the cars came to an abrupt stop, just as he had commanded! And not only that. The drivers—and mom and dad—were all smiles as they gazed at him with his new-found power.

What the little boy didn’t know, in all his euphoria, was that what he was really experiencing was the illusion of power. Even the smiling adults may not have known that painful downside which power possessed, i.e. guilt.

The little boy however was to begin to learn that corrupting lesson fourteen years later. He was then sporting a shiny new gold emblem—this time on the shoulders of his khaki jacket. He had just completed a three- month period of training at Fort Benning, Georgia and was a newly minted second lieutenant, was about to enter the holocaust of war as a platoon leader. (It was 1944 and the casualty rates for platoon leaders was alarmingly high, thus requiring many more “ninety-day wonders,” as the sardonic G.I.’s called them.)

All this was far from the lieutenant’s mind, however, as he proudly strode away from the graduation ceremony. His mind, instead, was focused—just as his mind had been at age four—awaiting that first thrill as some underling (a lowly enlisted man) passed him on the street. Sure enough, here comes one now. His heart leapt at the anticipated thrill of that newly- found sense of power, as he awaited the salute due him as an officer. But, instead of saluting, the sergeant purposely (or was he just distracted?) failed to do homage to this newly-minted second lieutenant! Rage flooded the mind of the officer and he shouted out, “Stand at attention, Sergeant!” Then he proceeded to angrily berate him for his dereliction to duty. A murderous hate replaced the euphoria, the anticipated thrill of power was replaced by fear, a horrid humiliation, a numbing sense of helplessness, an imagination of contempt (and was there even a sense of self-loathing?).

Certainly, following his hateful diatribe, the officer’s heart was flooded with guilt. What had he just done?? His image of himself was that of a kind, thoughtful—even compassionate person. That image lay in tatters at his feet now. From where had this hateful madness come? Was this the person he really was? Surely not! Yet he could not erase the horror of the event nor the painful anguish of his feelings concerning it.

This was his first intimation of a very troubling idea—that he possessed a split mind. One moment he might feel kindness.—And at another (in an instant) feel overwhelmed by murderous hate. It was his first conscious awareness of this distressing thought, but certainly it would not be the last.

In fact it would remain a very serious issue for him to deal with the rest of his life.

Copyright 2007 Frank West

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