In defense of anger

Posted: May 11, 2005 12:00 AM

Laura Hobbs, 8, and Krystal Tobias, 9, went for a bicycle ride in their hometown of Zion, Ill., on the afternoon of May 8. At 8:30 p.m., they still weren't home. On Monday at 6 a.m., Laura's father Jerry found both girls butchered off a bicycle path in Beulah Park. Jerry would later be arrested for the murder of both girls.

 Laura's grandmother Emily Hollabaugh stated: "I have a lot of questions, but it's just mostly rage ? I don't know how somebody could do this to two little girls."

 Meanwhile, according to the New York Daily News, "Grief counselors flooded town schools and anxious parents hugged their kids as they emerged from classes." The children recently read "Charlotte's Web" and "A Taste of Blackberries," and school superintendent Constance Collins explained to ABC's "Good Morning America" that the stories "will serve as an excellent backdrop for what we're going to have to deal with today."

 Area parents responded with caution to the news of the murders. "It's tragic," said Dorothy Fowler, 48, of Zion. "I've got a 7-year-old granddaughter. She won't have the freedom anymore to ride alone on her bike. She just got that privilege. Now it will be more, 'Stay close.'"

 In today's America, there is far too much of a tendency to downplay the reactions of those like Emily Hollabaugh and play up the reactions of those like Constance Collins. As a nation, we've come to believe that there is something wrong with reacting with rage against evil. As Christina Hoff Sommers puts it in her wonderful new book, "One Nation Under Therapy":

Too many Americans have been convinced, for example ? that nonjudgmentalism is the essence of kindness, that psychic pain is a pathology in need of a cure.

 But rage in this sort of situation is perhaps the only proper emotional outlet. Certainly the families should feel rage at the murderer of their children. But as a society, we should feel rage at the brutal slayings of two innocent young girls. We should respond as Zion Police Chief Doug Malcolm did: "It was a crime not only against those kids but against all of us."

 Instead, we turn on "Good Morning America" to watch grief counselors tell us how to deal with our anger, how to turn fury into something "healthy." There is nothing healthy about stifling moral condemnation. Moral condemnation isn't only cathartic; it's the only way we can improve our society.

 Attacks on our basic morality should breed anger; anger breeds action. Throughout our history, Americans, driven by moral rage, have done right. It is moral anger that drove our forefathers to rebel against Great Britain and to build this nation. It is moral anger that drove Americans into battle to abolish slavery. It is moral anger that drove Americans to destroy Hitler, to erode communism and to march for civil rights.

 Despite the new focus on "coping," today's Americans must be allowed to feel rage when wronged. President Bush was absolutely right when he stated on Sept. 11, 2001, "The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness and a quiet, unyielding anger ? A great people has been moved to defend a great nation."

 Of course, to feel rage, Americans must first be sure of their own values; without defining our values, we will never have the courage to speak up when those values are attacked. This means fighting moral relativism in all its forms.

 Professor James Q. Wilson of the University of California at Los Angeles once described the rise of crime with a "broken windows" theory: If you allow vandals to break windows without consequences, soon enough others will begin breaking windows. Crime in the immediate area will escalate, since crime breeds on apathy and lax enforcement.

 The same principle holds true for morality. When we are apathetic to smaller moral crimes, we allow criminals the comfort level they desire to commit heinous acts. Is it any accident that Jerry Hobbs was recently released from prison for aggravated assault? Was it any accident that America's willingness to ignore "minor" terrorist incidents preceded Sept. 11?

    Our ire must be aroused whenever morality is attacked, not just when those attacks are most visible. Collective moral anger is a powerful tool and a tool that must not be removed from the hands of the people -- even in the name of "healthy self-actualization."