In the 1942 classic film "Casablanca" the new Nazi in town asks Rick (Humphrey Bogart) if he could imagine German soldiers in New York City. Rick replies that there are some New York neighborhoods that the Third Reich would be well advised to steer clear of.
At least one town in Oklahoma can be added to Rick's list of American environs the bad guys had best avoid. Calera is the community where last week a 12-year-old girl shot a man who was trying to break into her house. According to the local sheriff, the bad guy was turning the doorknob when the kid fired a round through the front door and dropped him. Later she told the local TV station, "I see a lot of girls on TV that get their house broken into and they turn up missing and just knowing that that could have happened to me. I was scared."
This budding Annie Oakley should "friend" Iravia Cotton and Rachel Johnson, two Texas Girl Scouts, who took off after the thieves who stole their cookie earnings in front of a Fort Bend Walmart back in March. Thief Number One grabbed the kids' cash box and jumped into the getaway car, driven by his accomplice. Iravia ran up to the passenger side window and started punching the culprit. Rachel grabbed the driver-side door handle.
Recalled Iravia to the media, "Me and my friend, Rachel, went after the money and then they tried to hit me with the car. I started hitting the boy that was in the passenger seat, so I think he learned his lesson a little bit." Rachel held on, as the crooks drove away. She got a bit banged up, but suffered no serious injuries. "Who steals from a Girl Scout?" she asked afterwards. "It's the worst thing ever."
I'm reading a great new book about the 10-year hunt for Osama bin Laden, called "Manhunt." The author makes the point that, when the al-Qaeda kingpin authorized the 9/11 strikes, he thought America would turn tail and run away from the Middle East. He assumed we were soft people who couldn't tolerate wartime casualties. A few months later, when the bombs were raining on his Tora Bora hideout and his Taliban pals had been ousted from Kabul, he realized how wrong he was… not unlike the Nazi colonel in Rick's bar, who takes a fatal bullet in the belly at the climax of "Casablanca."
Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrated how tough the younger generation of Americans is. But just in case anyone in the world still harbors a doubt, I commend you to Iravia and Rachel and the little gal with the six shooter in Calera, OK.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. If you watch the news, we're apparently in the midst of a bullying epidemic (we seem to be experiencing an astonishing number of epidemics these days), so much so that it needs its own month. Of course, bullying is a far cry from being forced to shoot a burglar or having your money stolen (unless it's lunch money, I suppose), but I think it's still relevant because it shows the paradox of being a kid - particularly a female kid - in America right now: you need to be tough, but not too tough. Stick up for yourself, but don't hurt anyone else's feelings in the process. Be independent, but only in regard to parent-approved, age appropriate activities.
In short, it's hard being a girl in today's world.
I'm all in favor of bullying prevention. After all, bullying is an entirely different ballgame than it used to be; with the Internet and social media having an increasing role in kids' lives, bullying has been taken to a whole new, more invasive level. Of course, girls have never been able to simply duke it out in the schoolyard like Ralphie in "A Christmas Story." Girls aren't supposed to fight, right? We're supposed to be polite and work through our problems. Talk it out.
Even though we all know that's not always the case, most of us like to pretend, even after the movie "Mean Girls" put real girl-on-girl hostility amply on display.
Now, with the advent of cyber-bullying, the harassment isn't merely rumors in the hallway; it can travel from school and straight into a child's home. It only seems natural that girls would get tougher by necessity.
It does make me long for simpler times, though. In lieu of yelling, "Sticks and stones!" at tormenters, we now have eight-year-old girls posing with automatic weapons in some sort of pro-Romney, "you can't keep me down" meme. I want girls to protect themselves, but getting cozy with machine guns seems a bit extreme. Isn't there some happy medium between repressed aggression and carrying full-on artillery?
I don't know what the answer is. Pepper spray, maybe?