Two young women a world apart. The first, 15, lived in South Hadley, Massachusetts. The second, 27, lived in Tehran, Iran.
Yet each died for precisely the same reason, a reason that is old as humankind. Both were the targets of bullies. And whether the tormentors were the so-called "mean girls" and boys of South Hadley, or the snipers of Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the result was the same: tragedy.
Is there a lesson here for President Obama? Yes. Will he learn it? Doubtful. Which may make Obama one of the worst heads of government to hold center stage since British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain displayed his inability to grasp the German bully named Adolf Hitler.
One would think that the Obama White House might take the time to assimilate the lesson taught over in the Obama Department of Health and Human Services where liberal bureaucrats are busy pontificating on what any sentient school official should be able to grasp without assistance from the federal government. In a website called "Stop Bullying Now!" we learn just what bullying is:
• Punching, shoving, and other acts that hurt people physically
• Spreading bad rumors about people
• Keeping certain people out of a "group"
• Teasing people in a mean way
• Getting certain people to "gang up" on others
• Sending mean text, email, or instant messages
• Posting nasty pictures or messages about others in blogs or on Web sites
• Using someone else's user name to spread rumors or lies about someone
All of these are no more than plain old common sense, the kind of common sense once instilled by parents and others in positions of authority in places like schools -- where teachers and administrators should have the ability to both recognize and stop bullying in its tracks.
Unfortunately, the school officials at South Hadley, who, according to news accounts, knew various and sundry incidents at their school were happening to Phoebe -- did nothing. Phoebe, pushed to the brink, hung herself. Nine kids are now indicted, and school officials are in potentially career-ending trouble.
* "The investigation revealed relentless activities directed toward Phoebe to make it impossible for her to stay at school…"
* The conduct of those charged, she said, "far exceeded the limits of normal teenage relationship-related quarrels."
* "Her books were routinely knocked out of her hands, items were flung at her, her face was scribbled out of photographs on the school walls, and threatening text messages were sent to her cell phone."
* "One student said later it felt like the whole school ganged up on her."
* "It was particularly alarming, the district attorney said, that some teachers, administrators and other staff members at the school were aware of the harassment but did not stop it. 'The actions or inactions of some adults at the school were troublesome,' Ms. Scheibel said, but did not violate any laws.'"
As it were, school officials knew full well that the school bullies were fiddling around with the South Hadley high school's version of a nuclear bomb. They knew the bullies -- the "mean girls" and the boys -- were building that bomb. They knew Phoebe had been subjected to physical abuse by these kids -- with some teachers even witnessing this. They knew these bullies would knock her books out of her hands as she walked the halls, that various objects were flung at her, that her face was scribbled out of photographs hanging on school walls, that threatening text messages were sent to her cell phone.
They knew this.
As a result, the school-yard equivalent of a nuclear bomb has now gone off in South Hadley -- and the ruin of human lives literal and figurative is the tragic if totally unsurprising result.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the Obama administration, acting out the role of South Hadley school officials gone global, is busy ignoring the bullies who shot Neda to death. Iranian bullies who have, in the way of all bullies, loudly and transparently proposed something much more ambitious than shooting a 27-year-old young woman dead in the streets. To wit: becoming a nuclear power and using that power to, presumably, fulfill their stated intention of wiping Israel off the face of the earth. And to bring to fulfillment what Ahmadinejad has stated as the goal of the Islamic revolution, bringing back the Twelfth Imam, the Mahdi, with the required apocalypse.
And as this plays out, President Chamberlain…ah, Obama…and his team are running around doing their imitation of the South Hadley faculty room, issuing those handwringing idiocies that Winston Churchill once called the "ceaseless chatter of well-meant platitudes."
Churchill, famously, understood something about bullies. The South Hadley officials of the 1930s were his two predecessor prime ministers, Chamberlain and Stanley Baldwin. Both, and particularly Chamberlain as events picked up their pace upon Baldwin's retirement, stood by and watched as various European countries -- Czechoslovakia, Austria, Poland, and others -- were treated in international fashion just as Phoebe Prince was went she walked the halls of South Hadley High School.
Chamberlain and Baldwin (and others) saw the abuse, the physical threats, the throwing of objects, the jostling in the international hallways. Concentration camps went up, Jews were targeted, government officials shot, foreign leaders threatened. There was even a handbook, a guide, about what was to come for the world-as-Phoebe-or-Neda. Wrote Churchill later of Mein Kampf : "All was there -- the program of German resurrection; the technique of party propaganda….the concept of a National-Socialist State; the rightful position of Germany at the summit of the world." In words that have an even more disturbing meaning now than when he wrote them, Churchill added: "Here was the new Koran of faith and war; turgid, verbose, shapeless, but pregnant with its message."
There's a Churchillian phrase. "Pregnant with its message."
Who could not think as a can of Red Bull was hurled at Phoebe, as she was physically abused, threatened with ominous text messages, jostled, books knocked from her hands, that South Hadley was not "pregnant with message"?
Who could not think as Neda was shot dead in the streets of Tehran, as the relentless work to build a nuclear bomb goes on, as Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map that Iran is anything but "pregnant with message"?
Ahmadinejad, whom Charles Krauthammer has pithily described as "a Holocaust-denying, virulently anti-Semitic, aspiring genocidist, on the verge of acquiring weapons of the apocalypse," meets the very definition of a bully as unwittingly provided by the Obama apparatchiks themselves.
Let's translate that HHS language on bullies into the language of the world as it is today.
• "Punching, shoving, and other acts that hurt people physically" becomes shooting Neda dead in the streets of Tehran while the Iranian equivalent of storm troopers perform on other Iranian pro-democracy protestors "other acts that hurt people physically."
• "Spreading bad rumors about people" becomes the lie that the Holocaust itself is a lie.
• "Keeping certain people out of a 'group.'" becomes trying to isolate Israel, denying it recognition and keeping its people from a normal existence with its neighbors.
• "Teasing people in a mean way" becomes the constant threats of genocide.
• "Getting certain people to 'gang up' on others" becomes the constant conspiracies with Syria, Hamas and others to make life miserable with everything from suicide bombers to Scud missiles.
• "Sending mean text, email, or instant messages" becomes the constant barrage of diplomatic threats to exterminate the Jews.
• "Posting nasty pictures or messages about others in blogs or on Web sites" becomes more or less any speech or communiqué from Ahmadinejad or his government of thugs.
• "Using someone else's user name to spread rumors or lies about someone" becomes concocting one wild fantasy conspiracy after another and laying it at the feet of Israel.
This is the very core of what Churchill meant as he described the activities of Hitler in the twenty years between the wars as "pregnant with message."
The sad and tragic part of all this is that decades from now, there may well be those who look back at the bully Ahmadinejad and his reign of terror in Iran, shaking their heads for what this meant for Israel and the world. Shaking their heads just as South Hadley residents now sadly shake theirs about the bullies of South Hadley High School and Phoebe Prince.
Shaking their heads just as Winston Churchill shook his when he looked back on the bullies who brought on World War II and said the conflict should really be called "The Unnecessary War."
There are bullies loose in this world. They are here now, they have always been here, and they always will be here. They might show up in South Hadley. Or in Germany. Or at the butt end of an Iranian rifle. Their target may be Phoebe Prince. Or Neda Agha-Soltan. Or Poland or England or you.
But today, as is true for every hour of the day since 1948, their target is Israel. And beyond that -- America itself.
In 1935, Winston Churchill, facing the failure of the Obamas of his day to deal with the bullies of their day, stood in Parliament giving yet another impassioned speech about the dangers of doing nothing in what he would call "the locust years." For a moment, he stopped, silently recalling a poem from his childhood. The author was unknown, the topic a train accident. It so haunted Churchill that at the last moment he refused to recite it, writing it out only years later, the images of what lie ahead if Britain kept giving in to the bully who was Hitler so thoroughly unnerving him.
The lines were these:
Who is in charge of the clattering train?
The axles creak and the couplings strain;
And the pace is hot, and the points are near,
And Sleep has deadened the driver's ear;
And the signals flash through the night in vain,
For Death is in charge of the clattering train.
Perhaps this poem should have hung in the halls of South Hadley High School when Phoebe Prince was walking through them. Perhaps these lines should have been on the signs seen through the riflescope of the bully who squeezed the trigger that sent the bullet that took the life of Neda Agha-Soltan.
Perhaps this poem should be sitting on the desk in the Oval Office.
Before it's too late.
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