Last week’s local section of The Washington Post celebrated — yes, celebrated — the killing of a black bear by an 8-year-old girl. The compassionate among us mourned not just the cruel and completely unnecessary killing of one of nature’s most fabulous creatures, but the love of violence and destruction instilled in this child by her family.
That certain Americans sadly find valor in killing is beyond doubt. But in many ways, it’s also beyond belief. That they would take pleasure in a wantonly destructive act and train this into an 8-year-old female heart is beyond forgiveness.
We’ve heard it all before. Hunters love nature. Hunters work to preserve wildlife. Hunters are great stewards of the environment. Hunters eat what they kill. What was the justification here? That enough bears exist in Maryland to kill them off without destroying the species, as mankind once almost did. Only cowards could find solace, justification and pride in that.
There’s no sport in taking down a large, lumbering animal with a .243 caliber rifle, the kind used by the young girl portrayed in worshipful prose by the Post. That’s the same caliber weapon NATO uses in its assault weapons. There’s more technology than sport in today’s high-powered, scoped weapons. (The Post did not report whether the rifle she used was scoped or not.)
I’ve sat in the Maryland woods and watched deer saunter by, totally unaffected by my presence. I’ve watched grizzlies, mothers and cubs, in Alaska’s Denali National Park. If destruction of their lives had been my goal, the task would have been simple. Nothing to laud, any more than the lauding of fecklessness itself.
A week or so ago, I drove down a dirt road through a 200-acre farm along the Chesapeake Bay. I passed two hunters, all dressed up in fatigues, rifles in hand, apparently waiting for some prey to pass close by. They looked more like overgrown school boys in arrested development than men.
Despite all this, the Post described the state’s first bear kill of the season in glorified terms: “There’s a new hunting legend in the mountains of Western Maryland. Born to the woods, she’s 4 1/2 feet tall and 8 years old, with a shock of light brown hair and a steady trigger finger that put two bullets into a black bear’s chest cavity Monday, according to her and her father and granduncle, who were hunting with her.”
That her family’s prideful recitation of the facts included the nugget she “skipped school” to take part in the hunt clues us into their hierarchy of values: fake machismo over education. Sad, sad, sad.
Perhaps because there are few satisfying wars to fight anymore (what true war hero would stack, for example, Iraq up against World War II?), the testosterone-challenged among us now need to vent their need to destroy one of nature’s most stunning creations. It’s sad enough when that false sense of power is visited on boys. It’s sadder still when it’s foisted on young girls.
It’s almost as horrific as the latest blend of technology and feckless machismo: Internet hunting. Some skewed mind devised a system that mounts a rifle and a camera onto a platform pointed at caged creatures. With a click of a computer mouse, “bang, bang” and the creature is destroyed. Congress is considering a bill (and so are several states, including Texas, Michigan and Minnesota) that would ban the interstate practice of same, which proponents defend as a way of allowing the disabled to hunt. Methinks the disabled have more important things to do.
There’s a special place in the afterlife for worshipers of the cruel, for those who feign strength by destroying life.
(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)