Among the most brilliant pieces of social commentary on America’s modern condition are Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics in the song “Gee, Officer Krupke” from the musical, West Side Story.
What today we might call The Oprah Winfrey side was the argument that nobody is really evil. In the song, the position is expressed by a judge and a psychiatrist that the delinquents being arrested are really in need of psychoanalysis or a job. On the opposite side, the social worker says throw them in jail.
The U.S. has always been slow to rally itself to war. How could it be otherwise in a commercial republic dedicated to the “pursuit of happiness”?
In recent decades, though, the hesitance to lay down plowshares and pick up guns became more pronounced as the impact of Freudianism on society became more pronounced. After all, the same forces that try to “understand’ why a woman would kill all her children and urge us to hold her blameless, a victim of post-partum depression, would logically lead to questioning the “root causes” of terrorism and tyranny and trying to understand the pleas of terrorists and tyrants.
The psychoanalytic perspective can easily be read as rejecting all personal responsibility and, instead, holding social forces responsible for anti-social behavior.
Even immediately after September 11th, there was a small, yet vocal, minority saying that somehow the U.S. had brought about the attacks via the nation’s policies and that we should learn the lesson of the attacks. Which, presumably, was that we were obligated to do whatever the terrorists said they wanted.
Well, the killing of Uday and Qusay Hussein is a reminder that September 11th did change America and in essential ways. For although there will always be objectors — and right after the deaths were reported, they were out in force, including Representative Charles Rangel who objected to our targeting someone’s “kids” and Howard Dean, a candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination, who claimed that “the ends don’t justify the means” — still most Americans considered it grizzly work that had to be done.
That is why the controversy over the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq misses the point. Saddam was an enemy of the U.S., and what is important is that Kim Jong Il and other enemies of America should feel their own children are at risk.
It is a grave danger that America’s extraordinary efforts to avoid innocent casualties could be misinterpreted as a sign of weakness. So, although distributing pictures of the dead will make many squeamish, it is a sign of a robust America willing to use its power to defend its interests.
This may not make America popular. But perhaps one of the lessons of 9/11 is that it is more important to be respected than liked.
And for those interested in trade, only a robust America, an America not afraid to fight and kill can keep the world open for trade and exchange.
The stakes are immeasurably high. Even now, the killing of an American soldier every day in Iraq is, as much as anything, a result of our having left Lebanon and Somalia, of not robustly retaliating after the hit to our embassies in Africa and via the USS Cole. We are paying the price for allowing people to think that we are unwilling to pay the price to keep our liberties.
But that is not true. It never was as the Japanese learned after Pearl Harbor. And now the psychobabble is fading to background. Instead, we are giving out pictures of dead tyrants so that we can make the world a safe place to trade. And Officer Krupke, you were right on in making those arrests.
Excerpts from “Gee, Officer Krupke” —
Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke,
You gotta understand,
It’s just our bringin’ up-ke
That gets us out of hand.
Our mothers all are junkies,
Our fathers all are drunks.
Golly Moses, natcherly we’re punks!
Gee, Officer Krupke, we’re very upset;
We never had the love that ev’ry child oughta get.
We ain’t no delinquents,
Deep down inside us there is good!
Like inside, the worst of us is good!
Dear kindly Judge, your Honor,
My parents treat me rough.
With all their marijuana,
They won’t give me a puff.
They didn’t wanna have me,
But somehow I was had.
Leapin’ lizards! That’s why I’m so bad!
Officer Krupke, you’re really a square;
This boy don’t need a judge, he needs an analyst’s care!
It’s just his neurosis that oughta be curbed.
He’s psychologic’ly disturbed!
My father is a bastard,
My ma’s an S.O.B.
My grandpa’s always plastered,
My grandma pushes tea.
My sister wears a mustache,
My brother wears a dress.
Goodness gracious, that’s why I’m a mess!
Officer Krupke, you’re really a slob.
This boy don’t need a doctor, just a good honest job.
Society’s played him a terrible trick,
And sociologic’ly he’s sick!
Dear kindly social worker,
They say go earn a buck.
Like be a soda jerker,
Which means like be a schmuck.
It’s not I’m anti-social,
I’m only anti-work.
Gloryosky! That’s why I’m a jerk!
Officer Krupke, you’ve done it again.
This boy don’t need a job, he needs a year in the pen.
It ain’t just a question of misunderstood;
Deep down inside him, he’s no good!