Kill The Whale

An estimated 127,000 Russian troops and thousands of tanks, artillery pieces, armored personnel carriers, and war planes are in place along three of the Ukraine’s four borders. By the time you read this piece, these Russians may have already invaded the Ukraine and incorporated it into the Russian Empire. Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which includes Great Britain and the U.S., have repeatedly warned Russia that any “incursion” into the Ukraine would have dire consequences. Russia understandably shrugged off these threats, since a few years ago it invaded and took over that part of the Ukraine historically referred to as the Crimea and there were no “dire consequences” for Russia. President Biden said something about the risk of “World War III,” but we Americans really do not believe that another Russian invasion of the Ukraine would trigger an international conflict. Indeed, it would be like saying that the assassination of an obscure heir to an ancient European royal family in a country few Americans could find on a map could spark a conflict that left millions dead and even more homeless. But my history book says that was the way World War I started. Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria [and his wife, Sophie] were shot and killed in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in 1914, and the “dire consequence” was what we have come to call World War I.

In response to this unfolding foreign nightmare, we Americans have turned in on ourselves and focused on more compelling issues: the cost of eggs and the danger of books. Every night, the news media remind us that grocery prices have risen more than six percent over the past year. The cost of eggs is up 11 % and that of a fine sirloin steak is up 18 %.  Must we all become vegans to survive this crisis? Probably not.

What is getting even more attention than the exorbitant cost of artichokes, which I have heard some people actually eat, is the danger posed by the books that our impressionable youths are being asked to read in school. This is allegedly an especially urgent problem in states, including Texas and Tennessee, that still refer to the war to end slavery in America as the “War of Northern Aggression.” If the legislators in these states had read history books they would know that the war started with troops from South Carolina firing on the federal troops at Fort Sumter, not the invasion of Dixie by Yankees.

In any case, the problem is that there are books in school libraries that depict some white people as evil or cruel, suggest that some government agencies have discriminated against non-white Americans, and even claim that there is ongoing suppression of non-white Americans in the workplace and at polling places. America’s patriots want to know why their tax dollars are supporting this “pornography” and demand that these publications that might cause them or their children “discomfort” be banned from all publicly supported educational facilities. Having reviewed the contents of local libraries, I suggest that we start this purge by killing the Whale! Yes, my fellow patriots, “Moby Dick” must go. 

Unlike most fair-minded people, I have actually read Herman Melville’s account of The White Whale. It is inflammatory and defamatory.  For those of you who have forgotten the thrust of the story, it simply states that an emotionally-disturbed, white, Anglo-Saxon, God-fearing Protestant New Englander was no match for a ‘fish.’  Of course, I know that a whale is a mammal, not a fish, but this is just one of the many errors this obviously prejudiced author makes. To suggest that a whale can be even angrier and more clever than a man is in and of itself blasphemous.

Melville based his story on the real life tragedy of a whaling ship called the Essex, which was rammed in November, 1820, and sunk by a whale it was pursuing. Its twenty crew members survived the sinking by climbing into whaling boats.  Of the twenty survivors, only eight were still alive when other ships found them three months later: three crewmen had opted to get onto an atoll where they lived on whatever could be scavenged from the waters around the island. The other crew members who stayed in whaling boats soon ran out of provisions, and facing starvation, they resorted to murder and cannibalism before they were rescued. Only five of the men in the whaling boats survived. Their rescuers found them emaciated and frankly psychotic: they resisted efforts to bring them on the ships that had found them.  They stuffed their pockets with the bones of some of the men they had eaten and continued nibbling on the bones and sucking out the bone marrow even after they were on board the rescue ships. As they clawed their way back to sanity, the survivors were contrite but crushed by feelings of guilt.

“Moby Dick” is unsuitable for young minds for several reasons. It depicts the black and brown “savage” crew members as much more capable hunters and admirable people than the white crew members. It even suggests that ‘Parsees,’ a group of Persian whalers clandestinely loaded onto the ill-fated Pequod, the whaling ship that Captain Ahab commanded, were more reliable than the upstanding Christian, New Englanders that the shipowners recruited while the ship was being prepared for its journey. Throughout this book, the skill and honesty of the nonwhite, nonAmerican crew members is celebrated. The narrator of the story, Ishmael, is a self-proclaimed idiot. The captain of the ship is a reclusive, revenge-obsessed psychotic. The first mate, Starbuck, is a spineless dupe who allows a madman to take him and the entire crew on what any fool would realize was a suicide mission. Is this what we want our children reading? Why are there no white, American heroes in this book?

As I read this book for the fourth time, it made me just as uncomfortable as the first time I read it.  Just because it is one of the greatest novels ever written by an American author does not mean it is suitable for our children to read. Of course, they could just download one of the movie versions of Moby Dick and enjoy an unoffensive, sanitized version of this terrifying glimpse into the human psyche. We certainly would not want them to be “uncomfortable” or well-informed.

Dr. Lechtenberg is an Easton resident who graduated from Tufts University and Tufts Medical School in Massachusetts and subsequently trained at The Mount Sinai Hospital and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan.  He worked as a neurologist at several New York Hospitals, including Kings County and The Long Island College Hospital, while maintaining a private practice, teaching at SUNY Downstate Medical School, and publishing 15 books on a variety of medical topics. He worked in drug development in the USA, as well as in England, Germany, and France

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