A Lesson from Ralphie for Obama


Justifiably, President Obama is being heavily criticized for lacking a strategy to deal with the menacing reality represented by ISIL. Certainly, a thorough and well thought out strategy is needed to address this overwhelmingly daunting and extremely complex challenge. However, the sorely needed first step in this process is a very simple one that most learn in grade school – i.e. The only way to effectively cope with a bully is to confront him head on.


Arguably, the most well-known illustration of this is found in the Holiday classic movie, A Christmas Story, when the movie’s central character, Ralphie, deals with his nemesis, Scut Farkus and his “toadie”, Grover Dill. I recognize the element of absurdity in comparing a wonderfully amusing story to a deadly serious reality but, that aside, I believe it offers a clear illustration.

“Hey, ISIL! King’s X, OK?!”

As it became apparent that ISIL is not the “JV Team in Lakers uniforms” that Obama characterized them as being, initially, it seemed that the President was trying a tactic with them that kids used in Ralphie’s era. It was known as calling King’s X. Basically, it was used as a cry in children’s games to call a truce due to the competition starting when you weren’t quite ready or you wanted to remove your glasses first or you were out of breath or you had developed a side ache or … This ploy was fine when competing with friends but any attempt to use it with a bully would result, simply, in the bully beating the soup out of you.

Scut Farkus and his “toadie” Gordon Dill

In A Christmas Story, Ralphie’s first encounter with Farkus and Dill occurs when he’s walking in his neighborhood with two friends and his brother. Although Ralphie and his companions are in an environment they considered to be safe, since they’re completely unprepared for the intimidating confrontation with these bullies, they end up being frightened, humiliated and physically abused. After that, Ralphie and his guys try avoidance tactics, including using alternate routes to and from school. But, Farkus and his “toadie” continue to successfully seek them out and since they remained, otherwise, unprepared for being accosted by their antagonists, the result is the same. This cycle is finally broken when Farkus attacks Ralphie in a place Ralphie thought was absolutely safe, up to that point … a yard right next to his home. Although it was an instinctive strategy that he carried out, rather than one he had planned; when Ralphie was brought to tears by Farkus nailing him in the face with a snowball, ordering him around and taunting him by calling him crybaby; Ralphie’s reaction was 100% effective. Ralphie had, finally, had enough. He tackled Farkus and just started “whaling the tar out of him”. When Dill tried to intervene, Ralphie punched him and he ran away. All this didn’t just break the cycle, it brought it to an end altogether.


As I said earlier, while I recognize the element of absurdity in comparing a wonderfully amusing story to a deadly serious reality, I believe it offers a clear illustration that the only way to effectively cope with a bully is to confront him head on. The U.S. continuing without a thorough and well thought out strategy to deal with ISIL will end in disaster. Likewise, attempting to cry out, “Hey, ISIL! King’s X, OK?!”, will result in calamity. And, pursuit of any and all tactics meant to avoid the menacing reality represented by ISIL will ultimately end in catastrophic failure. The only path to successfully overcoming this overwhelmingly daunting and extremely complex challenge is to say “Enough! and to tackle ISIL head on.


In closing, I want to take this illustration out of the realm of the absurd. The bullies in A Christmas Story are semi-fictional characters, who are kids. After being called out as bullies, there’s a good chance that youngsters like Scut Farkus and Gordon Dill would have seen the error of their ways and have grown up to be worthwhile members of society. That is not the case with ISIL. Not unlike Scut Farkus, ISIL will invade more and more deeply into places you thought were safe. But, they won’t stop until they arrive in your yard and come into your home to kill you. Being willing to “punch” them or even “whaling the tar out of them” with air strikes and attempting to do so while standing off in the distance, will not be enough. We must be willing to tackle them on the same terms they have in attacking us – i.e. to eliminate them altogether. I believe that when we’re willing to do that, much as Ralphie experienced when he tackled his bully, we will find our friends coming alongside, with their encouragement and support. Even if we have to do this standing alone, though, we must achieve what Ralphie achieved … not just breaking the cycle but bringing it to an end altogether.


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