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  • Reverend James Squire

He Hit Me First


“He hit me first” are words that you are never going to hear in working class culture. I am just beginning to more fully understand the ramifications of growing up in a working-class community. I spent a good deal of my life running away from it only to learn that lessons learned there continue to inform my behavior and perspective on how I see the world around me. That culture is like my shadow.


“He hit me first,” is not heard in working class culture which is filled with how the culture informs one’s life and creates a set of values that I don’t even realize that I have until I understand why I feel a certain way about an event. Recently the Israeli and Hamas War has raised a lot of disruption in my soul and psyche. I can argue for and against each ethical side of Israel and Hamas.


When a general in the Israel Military is asked about the brutal fact that 21,000 Palestinians have been killed and a disproportionate number of those deaths are women and children, I hear those words that put me in an ethical quandary. “They started it.”


I am just not use to saying or hearing those words when growing up in a culture which had a different value system. Here is the way that it worked and why those words are like a foreign world to me, a vocabulary that doesn’t match a working-class value system.


Let me give you a scenario to highlight a point. When a fight was held during my high school years, they were usually occurred outside of the doors that take you to the back of the school. However, the principle could still get a view of what was happening even if you crossed the street, you were technically off school grounds. The principal didn’t care about that imaginary boundary. He would cross the street and his first words were “Who started it?” In all of the encounters that I witnessed no one said, “He did!” The principal would declare, “OK, I am going to punish you both.” Then he would look around the group standing by and ask, “Any of you care to say anything?” Silence.


Obviously, I hadn’t studied gender studies at that point in my life, but males love closure. Once the fight was over. It was over. People knew never to tease someone after it.


The other thing that was in operation was something which I actually think that the principal knew. We knew that each one contributed to what led to the fight. No one was completely innocent or completely to blame. There were also no statements such as “you started it, and I am going to finish it.” That would be too sophisticated a thought process for us.


So, my working-class background plus all the ethics I learned at universities has informed where I am in my thinking today. The whole Israel and Hamas War is wrapped in the ethical context of the lesser of two evils and wrong but necessary. I don’t care who started it compared to the deaths to date, 1200 Israelis and 20,000 Palestinians. Neither player is totally innocent or totally guilty in deliberations since October 7. It is the ethical world colored gray, not black and white.


Now what would have happened in my culture if the principal doesn’t on his own decide who was to be punished. How would those of us who viewed the whole thing and knew that each of our peers was to blame enter the picture? If he looked around, would we stand in silence? Probably!


If one of the fighters was injured very badly and not the other, who are we going to help first? How would we feel if the principal took sides? Back in my day, not very good. Today how do you measure life? Are 1200 Jews equal to 21,000 Palestinians? What would we do if the principal refused to call an ambulance to get aid for the kid beaten badly?


In my culture, you couldn’t sucker punch your opponent. It had to be a fair fight. Was it fair then on October 7? No! Is it a fair fight now for the Palestinian civilians? No!


I think that the only option for the principal is to stop it. That is what would happen back in my day. That would be appropriate to do. He couldn’t do otherwise. He would also never take sides with one student over another. All the kids standing around would not tolerate that and our principal would not be dumb enough to do that because all of us would not think it fair. The world is now standing around in mostly silence as nations are watching, some speaking out.


What is ethical? Stopping this war and then decide next steps. Don’t get into who was right or who was wrong. We never cared about that in my working-class world. We cared only about closure.


If we worried about right or wrong in this situation, we would realize something that my friends and I knew. That wasn’t as important compared to getting closure and finding our way forward. That is what takes precedence. Focusing on who is right and who is wrong would get us to the place where we are in the Israel and Hamas War today which is nowhere. In working class culture, we always got somewhere and that next steps were attached to it.

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