Here in New York City, a pack of wild
dogs attacked two people, critically injuring one and mauling another.
Pictures of the dogs, captured after the horror of the event, were shown
on the news. The animals looked calm, harmless; their heads hung down,
mouths panting as though docile friends of man. They were safely locked in cages with thick wire mesh protecting those
outside from the beasts who, stricken by some desire to inflict harm on
others, snarled and ripped and tore at the flesh of a man and a woman in a
vicious retreat to their primal thirst to “kill” for “killing’s sake.”
On the same news show was a report on the new bin Laden video
tape. There was no parallel drawn by the newscasters between the man
allegedly behind the September 11th disaster and the pack of
wild dogs—however, I saw it as clearly as I saw the Twin Towers crumble,
and bodies leaping from the geysering flames that shot out of the
buildings’ innards as the Terrorists’ planes gutted their structure, and
tore at the flesh of America’s innocence and safety.
The “Beast Of Human Nature” lives in all of us, I believe. I
have seen it unleashed in its most vile form, transforming young, quiet,
seemingly “tame men” into vicious packs of dogs who “kill for killing’s
sake,” who maim and butcher without compunction—driven by some twisted
desire that snaps the humanity in a person’s soul as though it were a dry
twig—fragile, inescapably triggered by some event, or the scent of blood,
or the license to kill without moral retribution.
I know that feeling more than most, for it clutched me in
Vietnam, and for a moment of eternal Hell, turned me into a beast—willing
to kill and maim for “killing’s sake.”
But I’m not like that. Or am I? People aren’t like that.
Or are they?
The pack of wild dogs that attacked the innocent, the
helpless, were Terror incarnate. They were driven by some hunger to
shred flesh, to sink their teeth into humans, to release frightening
guttural growls that rise up from the darkest part of a creature’s being
when hate and anger and revenge and the thirst to kill overwhelms the
tameness of a living creature’s being and releases some toxin that melts
the fragile shell of civilized behavior.
After returning from Vietnam, I worked as a freelance photo
journalist for a few years. I loved the ocean and hooked up with a man
named Chuck Nicklin, owner of the Diving Locker, in Pacific Beach,
California where I lived. He had been taking pictures of sharks for
National Geographic and Sea World. I went with him on a “shark photo hunt.” We
chummed the water with a bag of dead fish hanging off the back of his
small Boston Whaler until we lured a mean, nasty mako shark. Then we
threw over a very small shark cage with no top, and one-by-one climbed
down into it with our underwater cameras to take pictures of the beast of
When it came my turn I hesitated. Two men stood on the
rocking deck with poles beating at the shark when it slammed against the
top of the cage to keep it from diving in. I had no desire to be in a
cramped cage with a maddened shark, but my machoism overrode my fear and I
climbed down into the frothing water.
It is very hard to describe being battered in a cage by a mako
shark so angry it clamps its teeth on the mesh and shakes the cage so that
you cannot stand up. As the shark raged toward me, attacking the cage
time and again, it’s eyelids (a thin membrane that rolls down over its
eyes) closed as it snarled and grasped the cage and shook. I barely got
my Nikonos up to take pictures of its snout and jaws, and the orgasmic
appearance of its eyelids closing as it tried to sink its teeth into that
which it considered “an infidel of the sea.” According to the shark’s
thinking (which, incidentally, sharks have very tiny brains), we were the
invaders. For eons the shark has ruled the seas. It is a
holdover from prehistoric times. It assumes kingship
over its domain. Modern man and all his civilized tools and behaviors
fear the shark’s primitive nature, its ability to “kill for killing’s
sake.” I certainly did.
While I captured some outstanding pictures of the shark, I had
never felt such fear. Even when I was pinned down in Vietnam, bullets
popping and snapping so close I could feel their heat, the fear wasn’t the
same. But the shark triggered that fear. For in its eyes, in its
primitive desire to rid us of its domain, I sensed a power that could be
likened to that which bin Laden casts upon the world. He epitomizes the
shark. His primitive hunger to roll back time by destroying
civilization’s sense of security, is like the fear the shark strikes.
You know you are defenseless against it. You know it will kill you with
terror, long before your heart stops beating.
pack of wild dogs reminded me of canine sharks. They are creatures that roamed the earth, as the sharks roam the sea, waiting
to be triggered by some event, or some sense of destruction that releases
in them the “beast.”
I find it necessary as a man of experience with the “beast of
terror,” to alert myself, my children, my grandchildren, that all of us
have the “beast within.” I cannot fathom that some are born without the
genes of the “pack of dogs,” or that there isn’t a little bit of a “bin
Laden” or a “Hitler” in us all. The difference is we have learned to
control and manage and civilize the beast—or, we think we have—we hope we
But, let someone rape your child, or viciously murder your
family, or ruin your life, or abuse you to the point where the crust of
civilized behavior cracks, and then what? Then the rawness of the “pack
of dogs within” is released. Then, you act with a vengeful violence
that you thought you were not capable of before the event. Or, you wish
the most cruel and horrible death upon the perpetrators—a kind of “pack of
dogs” voyeurism that seems to sate the “beast's within hunger.”
I saw bin Laden’s picture on the news as a worn-out “beast of
terror.” He was thinner, weakened physically, but the vehemence still
spewed acridly out of his mouth even as his image of a strong, defiant
tyrant of capitalism and modern civilization waned in the pictures of
him. The “beast within” is hard to kill, I thought.
That’s why I believe Semper Vigilantes—Always Vigilant—is so
necessary for all of America and the world to embrace. It is a reminder
that the “beast within” all of us will not die upon the death of bin
Laden. It exists as part of human nature, as part of animal nature.
Lance Marrow, a writer for Time Magazine, kissed the subject
in his Dec. 24 essay, Awfully Ordinary, but he didn’t hug it. He came
close in his essay attacking bin Laden’s insanity and his likeness of
“evil,” when he quoted Baudelaire who said evil’s shrewdest trick is to
persuade us that it does not exist.
I consider this a dance around the issue. “Evil,” is nothing
more than an unleashed beast. It resides in us all. It can be
triggered by some event, or some crisis—causing the most innocent and
harmless appearing among us to perform acts of terror to ourselves and to
others. It does not exist “without,” or “lurk” from afar. It is inside
all of us. We own Terrorism, but we control it, manage it, constrain it
on a leash. We intellectualize it.
Semper Vigilantes is as much about recognizing the “beast
within” as it is the “beast without.” It is realizing the molester of
children could be anyone—not some greasy, trench coated slime ball. It
means a child who is physically and emotionally abused can grow into a
“monster” if not managed, corrected, cared for.
It means we all have a “pack of dogs” inside us. It means bin
Laden is a mirror of the potential we all have to turn into a shark,
“killing for killing’s sake.” It means the shell of civilization we
build around us can crack and shatter, and must not be ignored, but rather
respected and addressed.
The great lesson from September 11 is, at least for me, the
knowledge that “I am the beast.” It reminds me to not be complacent
about my own “bestial behavior” where I can turn mean and thoughtless and
inconsiderate of other human beings in a flick of an eye, or the piercing
of a word, or the thundering of my Voice.
It means that if I focus all my attention on bin Laden as the
“evil one” and ignore that I am also the “evil one”—the beast—I will have
learned nothing from Nine Eleven except how to wash my hands of my
responsibility to strive to become more civilized, put more distance
between my self and my beast.
But, at the same time, I can ill afford to deny the beast’s
existence. I can not turn my head away from the fact that deep in the
marrow of my being there is a “pack of wild dogs” and that in all other
human beings there is that same “pack of wild dogs” who, when provoked or
trained, can “kill for killing’s sake.” Or, can “hurt for the sake of
hurting.” Or, can become intolerant, unwilling to accept my own defects
and shovel them off onto another, as though by doing so I purge myself of
any of human frailties diseases.
Semper Vigilantes fights this denial of being a “pack of
dogs.” It recognizes the need for “beast control.” By putting my focus
on being a Parent of Vigilance, a Grandparent of Vigilance, a Citizen of
Vigilance, I am simply saying I recognize the “beast within” us all, and
vow to fight it with Courage, Conviction and Action.
Bin Laden’s death, like the death of the pack of wild dogs,
or the death of a mad mako shark, will not end Terrorism. What
will leash Terrorism is recognizing that we are all Terrorists
in some manner or form. All of us as human beings create
fear, intimidation and wallow in complacency.
By countering these “seeds of Terrorism” with “acts of Vigilance”
we can control the bin Laden in us all. And, we can see
the next one coming and do what needs to be done to prevent
Go to Diary
Dec. 27--The Stench Of Death & Perfume Of Honor
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