Someone has stuck a huge pin in the map in my American classroom. That map is a map of the world, and I had stuck that map up on the wall deliberately. It was a statement of intent. I intended to broaden the minds I was temporarily in contact with, to widen their perspectives. A map of the world symbolised that. This was quite a strange thing to find in America for, when you are there, you could easily think that the rest of the world does not exist. All that is reported is American news. Even the sport is only a record of American victories with token mention of other countries. For fuck’s sake, they even call the baseball and American Football the World Series and World Championship despite the fact that no other country is allowed to compete. It is more than a little Americocentric. The pin has a big flag on it. Written on the flag in bold letters is: ‘NUKE IRAN’.
The pin is stuck in Tehran. You’ve got to give them credit for that. A few weeks ago and they wouldn’t have had a clue that there was even a country called Iran let alone a city named Tehran. At least they can now find it on the map.
These are my kids that have done that. We are in the middle of the Iran hostage situation. My great friendly American kids are all wrought up with war fever. They want to kill.
I am in a privileged position as a foreigner in their midst. I can be detached. I am not directly involved so I can bring logic to bear in the midst of emotion.
I look at the flag. The class look at me. I decide that today we will abandon Biology to discuss war.
I bring them around the front. Their eyes are already gleaming as they sense what is coming. If I had any sense I would have given up that stupid idea straight away and gone right on with the lesson I had planned but these were my kids. Some of them were very bright. We’d enjoyed good discussions. We’d gone through stuff on drugs, race and religion. We’d got through some difficult topics and built up a good relationship. I was sure I could handle this.
We were still in the midst of the cold war. I took the map off the wall and showed them where Russia was in relation to Iran. I asked them how America might react if the Russians took out Mexico. I mentioned Cuba. I talked of the effect of using nuclear weapons.
Unfortunately, it seemed that this wasn’t the time for reason.
They howled at me. They stood on chairs and pointed and chanted. There was a pack mentality. They gave off a scent of madness.
I stood there standing in front of them, taking in their hysteria and was amazed. These were intelligent students but they were full of adrenaline and as high as kites. This was naked aggression. It was not directed at me. I was safe. But I had set loose a pent-up force that was now uncontained and raging and there was no way of getting it back in the bottle. It had to take its course. It was just that there was so much power in their rage, so much hatred, and it was like a monster with many heads and no brain. There was nothing to reason with. It had no ears. Its brain circuitry was fused.
There could be no discussion. There was nothing to discuss. The Iranians had dared to insult America by taking their people hostage. It was an outrage. They wanted them obliterated.
I could certainly see how easy it was for dictators to wind up their people. I could feel the group dynamic. When I’d seen all those crowds on the streets in Iran, Iraq and Palestine it had been just like this.
I had never experienced anything like it before. I felt as if I was trapped within Orwell’s 1984 and they were beaming in that period of group hate. This was the half-hour of hate. The aroma of adrenaline filled the classroom. The crowd were all directing hate in some sort of hysterical, self-perpetuating cloud.
Debate was not possible. It was not open to question. They didn’t even care if the hostages were blown to atoms in the process just so long as the whole world knew, and revenge was seen to have been carried out.
I had never experienced the irrationality of war fever. It was foreign to me and very scary. At that moment, it was obvious that Carter could get himself elected by a landslide, simply by sending in the marines or actually nuking a few cities, and hang the consequences. Instead, he had a fiasco of a rescue mission in the desert that went horribly wrong and got himself kicked out of office.
I respect him for that decision though. The alternative, if he had have gone in with full force, might have been another Vietnam or could have easily blown out of control into that fabled third world war. But it didn’t.
I repeated the lesson throughout the day with every class I taught. I never learn. It always met with the same impassioned response. America was beset with war fever.
I came home shaking my head.
That could only happen in America. The British were far too level-headed and rational to get carried away on such a jingoistic tide of emotion I thought. How wrong I was.
I have a dream of a world where enjoying yourself is not frowned upon and laws are just and equally applied to all – where a person has freedoms.