Friday, February 29, 2008

of mice and men

One day last winter, I pulled on my boots, buttoned up my coat and went out into the snow to fill the birdfeeder. We kept the seed in a large bucket in the garage and when I went to scoop some out to carry to the feeder, I noticed that the supply was running low. It was dark in the garage and even darker in the bottom of the bucket. I tipped the bucket a little and was startled to hear a faint skittering noise inside. I looked in...a brown field mouse was trapped down at the bottom of the bucket! My first surprised thought was "eek!", quickly followed by "awwww, cute! mousie!" And as I squatted down next to the bucket to get a better look at my new furry friend...

...the mouse growled at me.

It was a small sound, barely audible, and if the world hadn't been so hushed and muffled under its thick blanket of snow, I might not have heard it. I went very still, holding my breath - I heard it again.

Trapped in the bucket and cornered by a large seemingly menacing creature, the tiny mouse, somehow realizing that flight was impossible, decided to fight for its life.

I was so impressed by the mouse's bravery that when I helped it get free, I left it a big pile of seeds on the garage floor and wished it luck.

The struggle for survival is natural. That fight or flight response is what allows all creatures to live to see another day, to pass on their genes to another generation. Humans have the ability to fear death, not out of pure instinct, but because we consciously know that we are valuable; that our lives, despite all sadness and hardship, can still be sweet. Something good could come as soon as tomorrow. That hope of happiness, that mere possibility of joy, is worth fighting for.

But have we gotten so far from nature that we have lost the ability to fight for our lives? Not too long ago, Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina ran an emergency response drill. A campus police officer posing as a gunman burst into a classroom, where he proceeded to hold the students hostage and terrorize them with a fake gun for 10 minutes. Not one of the students fought back. Not one thought to pick up a chair or a desk, or even a book, to defend themselves. They all lined up against a wall and passively waited for death.

One of the students said, "I was prepared to die at that moment." Several students say they considered leaping from a window.

My mouse had more courage than this. Against insurmountable odds, it growled at me and prepared to fight, even to its death. The college students who meekly bared their throats to those who wanted to rip them out are dead already - they just don't know it.
The will to live is life.



Anonymous said...

I don't know if you're old enough to remember the days when women were taught, with ferocious cultural reinforcement, not to resist sexual assault.

The delusion was that if you fought, "you'll just make him mad," and women who died during sexual assaults were often blamed: "Oh, she must have fought him."

Then the research showed that in sexual assault, fighting back works.

Of the four planes that crashed on 9/11, the one we ought to talk about the most is Flight 93.

I liked the "I ain't goin' out like that" link, save for her peculiar and gratuitous snark at French-Canadians. One of the things that bugs me most about the Kazmierczak NIU killings is...the students let him reload. I wasn't there, and news accounts are vague, but from what I've read so far, they let him reload.

Bonnie said...

I think that mouse deserves a "fuckin'-A! WOOOO!" cheer.

Thanks for the link!

Mike W. said...

Great post Breda!

All animals have that basic "fight or flight" instinct.

Unfortunately our increased level of consciousness over animals allows our reason (or lack thereof) to complicate that basic response.

Standing there or sitting in a corner waiting for your turn to die is simply not a natural response to a mortal threat. It's a learned response thats clearly detrimental to self-preservation.

Sevesteen said...

"lined up to die" isn't surprising. When I was in school, the fighting rules still had an "affirmative defense"--If you were clearly defending and didn't overdo it, you could avoid punishment. Now if you are the victim of an unprovoked attack in front of the entire school staff, and don't just take it, you also get punished.

Carteach said...

Were a 'drill' such as that held at my school, I'm not sure what would happen. My expectation.... the 'shooter' would not survive if it was an unannounced drill.

Far too many alpha males with a sense of duty in the building.

phlegmfatale said...

Sometimes the greatest lessons come from the humblest of creatures. That mouse had a lot of heart. I would have let it live, too. :)

Thanks for the linky!

Xavier said...

Superb post Breda! So true, so very true. The will to live is life itself. I see it over and over among the ill and dying. When the will is lost, whether to a murderer or to disease, life itself escapes us.

If you haven't found The Cornered Cat yet, go there...........And get that CCW.

Weer'd Beard said...

+1 to carteach.

In my state anything under a 3" blade isn't considered anything under the law. If I am otherwise disarmed, I am still carrying my Ka-Bar TDI 2".

Situations like that are why I carry it. Since it was a mock-gunman he probably wouldn't survive, and I'd be really upset to find out it was just a ruse...

LBJ said...

what a incredible post. So many things that needed to be said. And well.

Mr. Mouse earned his release. And his seedy reward.

Maybe it's because of my upbringing, widowed military dad, brothers, not sisters, but I've never thought I'd go guietly into the night.

When I did tactical training, some of the stuff we did was hand to hand, especially learning to defend against flat edged weapons. The guys called me "wolverine". Small but gets REALLY pissed off when cornered. Sure, I'd have had a hard time aganst someone with more upper body strength (for example - Don Knotts) if I wasn't armed. . But that didn't mean I wouldn't fight to the death.

We all need to wake up our defenses, and make those bold decisions to fight for what we believe in.

Joe Allen said...

Hmmm. If these things are signs of bigger trends, in a few hundred thousand years the next tool-using sentient culture to run the planet may be decended from small rodents instead of primates.

If it turns our that way, I wish them luck. Message to future ratpeople: If you must become an agrarian society, always see to you own defense, never subcontract it out. That's where we went wrong.


SpeakerTweaker said...

Nicely said, Breda.

I had a discussion along those lines at lunch at the office yesterday, concerning the "drill" at that university. I was talking about how I couldn't imagine going out like that, on my knees waiting for a bullet.

One of the guys I work with got all bent out of shape that I was having the conversation, and the best he could do (after several confirmations of his own cowardice) was that you never know what you'll do in that situation.

Well, if you put your head in the !$@# sand and never think about it, you sure won't. I'll at least have an idea.


Anonymous said...

I heard a rumor that you're going to a gun show tomorrow.

See if you can find me the email address or website of a vendor that has one of those giant 16inch Bowie knives with black blade.

I saw one at a gunshow in upstate NY once for only $18.

Send me an email if you find out where I can order one for my anti-terror gear.


Tango Juliet said...

Oh jeez, now I've got another blog I have to visit. :)

Help John Stossel with your 2A thoughts here:

Anonymous said...

Speaking of birdseed, did you know that birds can growl? If particularly annoyed or angry, my parakeet lets out what can only be described as a birdie growl.

What's even sadder about that school drill? They obviously didn't expect anyone to be armed or to fight back lethally.

Thunder said...

It would appear that we have a society trained to be sheep, to hide in a corner.

It is strange that a measly mouse can create such "Thunder" however it's true. When I speak somewhat soundly that I always travel with my two friends and explain how they are my guardian angels, I get fewer questions. No one wants to meet them and yet fewer have ever asked to see them.

"Smith & Wesson" are quietly tucked away and are ready to come to my defense only when absolutely necessary, and you can bet their position will be heard.

They will send a message much smaller than the mouse, and their growl is also a lot greater, but for their size, no one has yet to really question their authority, and "I pity the poor fool that does."

Ghost said...

Definitely going against the grain here, but I got the distinct notion that you think the students who didn't do anything are all cowards.

I disagree. Perhaps they are calm, so calm and so fearless that they don't feel the need to do anything. I remember an article, maybe from a decade ago... that said when civilians (with guns) interfered with armed robberies, the chance of shots being fired and the chance of people being killed was substantially higher than if the civilian just stood there and didn't do anything.

Well, I don't think it takes a study. Common sense would tell you the same... most robbers don't have any intention of killing anyone, but if you attack them, they have little choice in the matter.

In this case, the kids, I assume at least, were not armed. But it makes little difference. If they jumped the bad guy, what choice does he have but to start fighting back and blasting?

We hear all the stories... some guy plays hero in a McDonald's, and he wins the shoot out even, but one of the bad guy's bullets hit someone in the backdrop in the head. I for one, could not live with myself if such a thing happened.

Jumping a bad guy if I'm the only one in the room is one thing, but jumping a bad guy who is in a room full of innocent people, creating quite a dirty backdrop for when I inevitably piss off the guy with the gun is something else entirely.

So if I was a student in a classroom, would I jump him? No. Because I don't want anyone getting shot. Does that make me a coward? I suppose in most people's eyes it does, but I'd rather be called a coward than be responsible for someone's death.

breda said...

Ghost - I would suggest that you go back and read the original news story. The students were not calm, in fact they were so not calm that now the school is offering them all counseling to deal with the trauma of the event.

I would also suggest that you do a little research. Time and again, it has been shown that fighting back works. Being passive only gives permission.

But I suppose by writing "Well, I don't think it takes a study.", like you did in your comment, implies that this is something you are not willing to do, and your mind is made up. It is also very apparent from your comment that you know nothing about firearms or the 4 safety rules. I've not heard the urban legends, or what you'd call "stories", of someone playing a hero in McDonalds. For that I would refer you to Rule 4 - always be sure of your target, and what's behind it. Concealed carry holders are the most conscientious people I've ever met, and are very aware of these rules.

Someday, if violence and evil were inflicted on you, and you chose not to fight back, the person's death you'd be responsible for might be your own. It is your life, your choice...and if you are comfortable with that, fine. I, for one, am not.

Last Chance Safari Company said...

Would cheer for the mouse if they didn't destroy so many of my possessions making themselves at home in my barns, but I have been known to return them to the out of doors after such a display, I agree , though that such a "ruse" could have deadlyu complications, was the 'idiot security know it all" prepared to encounter children who realized that the security staff is not cobncerned with our individual security and safety, instead the sec and safety of the institution.. after the virginia tech debacle, my own daughter commented how ridiculous it would be to be a knowledgeable CCW who had folowed procedure and left her greatest security at home, and watch the university security forces dressed in their kevlar hiding behind the cruisers, whilst the gunman systematically killed the unarmed present in the room. - "I'd rather fight it in court than hear eulogies about what a fine individual I had been"

Ghost said...

Thanks for your reply, Breda. I think I was less than clear though. It's not the hero that is unaware of the backdrop, it's the bad guy. Or more correctly, he just doesn't care. So, if said hero antagonizes the bad guy to start shooting... putting my life on the line is easy. Putting everyone else's...

Glenn B said...

"I disagree. Perhaps they are calm, so calm and so fearless that they don't feel the need to do anything." Then they are either idiots, or not worthy of the lives they live and the air that someone else could breathe.

As for the student saying he was prepared to die, that was not a student, that was the professor in charge of the class. He should be ashamed of his outright cowardice in tyat his students are his responsibility. How much for the poor Amricans have changed, these liberal heros who prepare to die instead of fighting to survive.

As for the shool itself, and the authorities who played out this apparent unannounced faux crisis, they too are idiots. What would have resulted had several students headed for the windows, and jumpoed, or if even one student decided to fight and severely injured himself or another. This was quite irresponsible on the part of the role players.

phlegmfatale said...

"If they jumped the bad guy, what choice does he have but to start fighting back and blasting?"

Poor little criminal - he was just minding his own bidness, doing his job, when all these violent people attacked him?

Give me a break.

staghounds said...

I notice the news article was careful to make room for the current Champion's name...

If he comes into a schoolroom with a gun, he's there to start blasting- it's just a question of when.

I've been beating the drum for years, SAFETY TRAIN.

And I don't care what studies show- I want my next breath a whole lot, and I'm not just going to wait and see if he takes it.

United 93.

Anonymous said...


Please also remember:

1. People who offer no resistance when confronted by armed criminals are often slain anyway (something that seems to be increasingly common).
I'm still sickened to this day by CCTV footage of a completely compliant store clerk who was herded to the back of a convenience store and shot in the back of the head. (John Walsh show, btw. Never very pro self-defense). If this person had a weapon, or even began some sort of vigorous unarmed resistance, they might still be alive today.

2. Perhaps if nearly everyone confronted with an assault fights back *immediately* with complete ferocity, it would discourage that sort of crime altogether.

Anonymous said...

I sincerely hope that you never find yourself in such a situation. The screen name that you have chosen could turn out to be quite prophetic.

Anonymous said...

Ghost's stated position is his justification for physical and moral cowardice. He can dress it up with bogus situations, but at heart he is a pacifist. Pacifists exist only because of others defense of them. It is not a nice label. That sort of thinking kills a lot of people. Both on a personal and national level.

Anonymous said...

Ghost -
Yes, sometimes, the dragon wins. But most of the time, resistance is not futile, and prevents/diminishes the harm intended toward you.

I've chased off "bad guys" twice with a simple show of force; once, with a piece of broken window glass that they had broken in an attempt to enter a friend's apartment, and a second time, with the simple sound of a P-38 being racked.

Ghost said...

Wow, a lot of really great comments. I wish I could say the increase in fatalities and shots fired in situations where a third party interferes with a robbery was merely urban legend, but... at any rate, this situation is a bit different, as some of you pointed out.

Nevertheless, I bristle at the notion that an entire classroom full of students is "already dead" or a bunch of cowards. It's a rather broad brush to paint dozens of people with. Even the professor. Especially the professor.

I wouldn't want to live in a world where everyone considered themself a "warrior"... there would probably be a lot less smiles, and jelly bellies, and a potato chip sandwiches, and silly things. He's not like you, the professor. That's why he's a professor, and not...

As for the students not doing anything, even if I wasn't disabled, I don't think I could get out of the seats in a lecture halls of these days in any reasonable amount of time. You know, the type they have at colleges where the seats are stuck to the table, and swivel out. And even then, you can only really swivel out if the people next to you move. But let's not make excuses for them. Let's say they could throw chairs, and stand, and charge, and all that...

Call me a pacifist, but I'm okay with the fact that given the same situation, most people would not do anything. Most people spend their day thinking about indirect LED exposure, or mushroom risotto, or a play about starcrossed love, or anything, really... aside from grabbing a pencil and jamming it into said bad guy's neck. It's just not how most people are wired, and I think that's what makes us people. And not wolves. It doesn't make them any more of a failure as a human being.... is my opinion.

press enter a lots of really great responses. Thanks again.

Comrade Misfit said...

I was curious as to the source of the "molon lave" quote, so I went a-Googling and found this:

Ao is everyone using the wrong letters? (I don't do Greek, so I have no idea)

breda said...

earthbound - "lave" is modern Greek, "labe" is classical.

Anonymous said...

When the mice talk to each other they say things like:

"Be polite to everyone but have a plan to kill them all!"

"The bigger they are the harder they fall!"

"It's not the size of the rat in the fight but the size of the fight in the rat!"

"Never give up!"

Those rats read a lot of Jeff Cooper!

Anonymous said...


While there is some (very small) truth to your proposition; the college simulation and the events it attempts to simulate are an entirely different animal.

The intent of these attackers is not profit but murder.

In this case the wisest action is to attack the attacker. If you can't attack, throw something, scream and run around, do something to distract and confuse the bad guy.

If enough people these things then the attacker will not be able to attend to everyone one at the same time. Then someone (or several) can reach him and overcome the threat.

Passive compliance is the WRONG decision in these cases. IMO this amounts to being accessory to your own murder.

Keith Walker said...


I understand your point, but don't think you have completely thought it through. While you do not want to have your actions cause the death of an innocent person, have you thought about the fact that your refusal to act towards a man intent on killing people also makes you responsible?

In light of recent history, we do not have the luxury of waiting to see what the motives are of a man with a gun in a classroom full of people.

Drumwaster said...

Selfishness is the bedrock on which all moral behavior starts and it can be immoral only when it conflicts with a higher moral imperative. An animal so poor in spirit that he won't even fight on his own behalf is already an evolutionary dead end; the best he can do for his breed is to crawl off and die, and not pass on his defective genes. -- Robert A. Heinlein