Bullies in the schoolyard

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(Host) Commentator Jay Parini has been following the dispute over what countries will be allowed to bid on contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq and he says it reminds him of an experience he had in the fifth grade.

(Parini) There is a bully in every schoolyard, and we never forget them. Almost 50 years ago, in elementary school, I had to contend with a kid called Raymond. Not Ray – Raymond. If you left out the “mond,” you were courting a fat lip.

I liked basketball a lot then, and would hang around the outdoor hoop after school, hoping for a few shots. The problem was, some kids from the junior high had control of the blacktop, and my friends in the fifth grade – Lenny, Tom, and I – were usually pushed aside.

One day Raymond had a big idea. We would all hurl rocks over the hedge beside the court. The problem was, of course, that somebody might get hurt. But Raymond didn’t care. That afternoon, he and his friends hurled rocks the size of baseballs over the hedge, then disappeared. One kid, a seventh grader, did get hurt: a gash over one eye that could have been worse. After only a week or two of torment, the older kids gave up. Now Raymond was in total control.

Of course Lenny and Tom and I still wanted to play basketball. We showed up, nervously, one afternoon, and stood around under the backboard, hoping for a rebound. But suddenly Raymond – big, mean Raymond – told us to scram. We hadn’t helped with the rock attack, he said. There was no way he was going to let us play ball.

I remembered this little scenario the other day, after I heard that President Bush would not allow contractors from countries who opposed the war, including France, Germany, and Canada, to bid on projects for the reconstruction of Iraq.

More than eighteen billion taxpayer dollars are at stake here. Should we not let contracts go to the lowest bidders? Do we have to pay what amounts to a grudge tax so that George W. Bush can shake his fist at those who considered the Iraq war a bad idea? Furthermore, do we really want to alienate countries whose help and good will may well be crucial in the war against terror?

In the wake of the capture of Saddam Hussein, there is a real opportunity for reconciliation, for moving beyond divisions – at home and abroad.

During the last presidential campaign, Mr. Bush said repeatedly: “I’m a uniter, not a divider.” As it happens, there has rarely been a more divisive administration. From their rejection of the Kyoto Treaty on Global Warming and their withdrawal from the nuclear non-proliferation pact with Russia to their aggressive vilification of all and sundry who oppose their policies, they have created a New World Order that boils down to one concept: Us against Them. You’re either with us or against us.

So, if you won’t toss rocks over the hedge, you can’t play on my court. And what did you call me? Ray? The name is Raymond.

This is Jay Parini, from Weybridge.

Jay Parini, a poet, novelist and biographer, teaches at Middlebury College.

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