“ —the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” – Hermann Goering – NAZI leader, before his execution
It was the most atrocious thing that had happened in Independence Drive. Not since Old Pappy was bitten by the rabid old alley rat had I seen my comrades more incensed. Nobody, not even Nosey Jim with his passionate theories, could deny that we had been violated – The stinking crime was right in front of our noses.
It happened soon after the lunch break. In the hours preceding the incident- we had played a few rounds of tag, swapped stories about the night before, applauded a hearty squabble between the Brothers over a slimy fish bone, chased squirrels in Uncle Tony’s yard and retired for grub to our respective homes – altogether, a typical uneventful Independence morning. It was when we were heading to the shade of the old magnolia tree for a post-lunch nap when we heard Skinny Pete, who is not usually the most vocal of our lot, accede to a terrific howl. Seeing him in the middle of the street, the hair on his back raised, lips curled into a snarl and ears upright- we knew something was awfully wrong. We were by his side in a jiffy. And there it was – a neat, curled up, blackened, smelly roll of turd – right there in the middle of the street outside Skinny Petes’ house.
It was appalling! The decree of self restraint had been in vogue for several years now and every Independence dog had sworn by life to retire to his or her own backyard to relieve oneself when the need arose. This was a question of pride and honor, what held us above the hundreds of other streets in the projects where we lived. No one in living memory had violated this unwritten code. But to see it broken now- not on the sidewalk- not under the shade of the magnolia trees- but in the middle of the street for the whole world to see and sniff was incredulous! We were incensed!
‘It is appalling” snarled Old Brown from under his bushy eyebrows. “I wonder who would stoop to such desecration” Brown was, well, brown. He lived in the ramshackle cottage at the corner of Independence. We all agreed that he looked more like a piece of confusing modern art than the decorous venerable Schnauzer he claimed to be. Of course, we never said that to his face. We loved the old cur.
“It’s not one of us… for sure” I ventured doubtfully.
“Of course not,” agreed Sam. “No self-respecting dog from Independence would do it”
“Besides, we were all at lunch, were we not?” Brown said, looking around, a hint of suspicion in his voice.
“Of course, we were all at lunch” agreed Sam again. Sam was the youngest in our group, and like most of us in Independence had no clue about his breed or origins. He was also the weakest and the tiniest of our lot. He survived by agreeing with everybody and everything vehemently.
“T’was one of em boys from Constitution Drive”. This was from Roxy. Roxy was the only female in our insiders’ circle that included nearly twenty of the ninety or so dogs in Independence. Independence also boasted of Emma and Lucy who were way younger and prettier than Roxy, but sadly for us, they were hardly seen in the streets. Their people knew better than to let them out with us boys around. Roxy was a mangy cur with a terrible temper and no one was certain about her age. We never bothered to ask her, because we found (so she claimed), unlike the rest of us, she grew younger with the years. But hey, she was a girl- the only girl in our group- and we needed that gender appeal.
Anyways, Roxy’s claim brought us to attention. We gave a collective howl of anger. This was serious.
“Are you speculating?” frowned Old Brown
“T’was a Consitution boy. I saws him with mine own eyes!”
Everybody needs an enemy, if only for inspiration. Ours were traditionally the dogs from Constitution. No one knows why or where our enmity started- but we were a passionate lot at Independence and when it came to hate we did not ask questions.
“Death to the constitution boys!” snarled Rollo, the elder of the Brothers.
“An eye for an eye and an ear!” joined in Pollo, his sibling. Rollo and Pollo, lived close to their Doberman heritage. If anything needed biting, ripping or destroying, the Brothers could be counted upon to fit the bill.
“Now, now, Roxy,” said Nosey Jim placatively, “Your claim has a lot of implications. We must not be quick to judge” Nosey Jim’s man was pastor at the First B down the street.
“Shut up ya Nosey mutt,” yelled Roxy. “I knows what I saws”
“Why did you not stop him… yelp…bark…something?”
“Yeah, Why?” intoned Sam.
“Well I was, was… was eating. I hads my mouth full”
“Eating what? Lunch?”
“O’ course” defended Roxy.
“But your house is the other end of the street. The two houses close to this here are Skinny Pete’s and Sams”
As poor as we were, Jim stood at the bottom of the heap. But that never stopped him from coming up with sensational rational objections. And he had a point here- how could Roxy, who lived twenty houses down the street, claim to have witnessed the crime when no one else had?
Roxy seemed at a loss for barks.
“I knows what I saws. T’was the constitution boys ” she growled desperately.
“I smell fish” said Old Brown.
“And I smell turd!” roared a voice from behind the circle we had formed. It was Rover. Behind him, with inerasable half-comic grins on their faces stood his sworn allies- the Doobers- Senior and Junior.
I immediately knew that we were in for action. Rover came from the biggest house in our street. Every one in Independence knew he was sly and manipulative, but he was also our smartest, and boy, could be bark! Brown often said that Rover could bark a puppy away from a teat!
The Doobers also came from rich homes. They were the only Father and Son team in Independence. Rover, the Doobers, Roxy, Cicko (who had gone on vacation with his people) formed a tight little mob. I was sometimes included with this group for one reason- I was Rover’s ego pot. Whenever he chose to brag about the accomplishments of his devious brain, he knew his secrets were well kept with me.
“So Roxy saw the criminal,” continued Rover, “And you all did not. How does that change the facts? She was vigilant and you were not. What is the harm in being a little vigilant for the place you live in? What is the harm in being patriotic?” His shiny silver collar glinted in the afternoon sun. He sounded very convincing.
Roxy looked obviously relieved.
Doober senior joined in. “Today Constitution has destroyed our respect and breached our sanctity. The code of honor has been broken. What comes next? How can our women and pups sleep in peace?”
“Yeah, How?” joined in junior. He was not particularly eloquent, but his one line howls and comic yelps usually provided all the distraction for Rover and Doober Senior to put their points across.
“How?” echoed Sam.
The Doobers were almost as confusing as Old Brown in lineage. Both had schnauzer mustaches and eyebrows, spaniel ears, rottweiler bodies, and very bushy tails. Both, especially Junior, had misleading comic grins imprinted on their faces. And Junior was big!
“Oh Come on!” interrupted Jim. “It is one dog’s word after all, and knowing Roxy’s claims regarding her age, I would not trust a chicken bone of anything she has to say. And even if she was correct, that was one dog’s crime- Not the crime of Constitution street itself. Why, even so, it is only a piece of turd”
Nosey Jim’s closing bark ended with a loud yelp. Doober Junior had bit him sharply in the butt! We were stunned. Jim was not popular, but he was a thorough Independence guy. We tried not to fight between ourselves in Independence. Jim turned back to fight his overmatched attacker. Brown restrained him by tugging at his collar.
“What are you upto, you fool?” snarled Jim.
Doober Junior did not answer. He flipped back like a toy monkey, landed on his paws and gave a huge grin that almost made us laugh. Rover jumped in.
“Junior was just proving a point. Even the weakest among us (at this he glared at Jim) has an obligation to defend himself under provocation. A turd today -an invasion tomorrow. We at Independence are not weak. We at Independence are not cowards. We will fight for this place- its dignity and honor- with the last inch of our weary hearts. Listen my friends- we cannot let strangers come and tell us what we fear and what we do not. We need to determine that ourselves. We need to defend ourselves against these mortal harbingers of fear and injustice. We need to defend ourselves against our unpatriotic own who seed discord in our minds and divide us against each other (her glared at Jim again and so did a lot of us, Rollo even snarled at him). Remember our honorable ones who lived and loved this place and no other. Remember Old Pappy- Remember his sacrifice”
This was ridiculous, of course. Everyone knew how Old Pappy had died sticking his blind nose into a rat trench. But that was all lost in the moment. We were incensed with patriotism and filled with hate against Constitution.
It was now Doober senior’s turn. “Comrades, listen to me. The unthinkable has been done and must be dealt with. Why? Because we refuse to live by compromise. We refuse to live in vain hope that these things will not be done again. We refuse to see our Independence besmirched by the vileness of Constitution. This demands war”
He reared into the sand and a cloud of smoke rose up like a shroud around him.
By now, Rollo was totally taken in. He was way too riled to not react. He jumped up and buried his sharp Doberman Fangs into Nosey Jims’ privates. Jim ran yelping down the street. Pollo stood ready to defend his brother. No one else moved.
“My friends, this is a moment of truth and sacrifice. Things will never be the same again. We must protect our land with all that we have” continued Senior unabated. “This is our war for freedom. This is our war against FEAR”
“Let us destroy Constitution” yelled Junior.
With that our group howled in collective passion.
Three significant events occurred soon after the incident of the turd. As Rovers part-time confidante, I got a view of the inner machinery of the war events.
First, Independence formed its war committee and Doober Junior was elected as Head of the War events. Junior was an automatic choice. He was a big dog who could outfight most of the dogs in Independence. He could hide his fanatical zeal for destruction behind his antics and comical grin. He could bark loud as hell. But most importantly, he had the backing of his dad’s eloquence and Rovers sly brain and Cicko’s sick passions.
Second, the war committee formed a War propaganda team. Rover and the Doobers pawpicked the noisiest (and hence the most convincing) dogs to convey messages to all the dogs in Independence. Rover personally trained these messengers, and the messages were often embellished and organized to convey a sense of urgency and fear. Every message was designed to promote an image of impending disaster and hate and soon enough the nearly ninety or so dogs in Independence were teeming with a festering hate for Constitution. The funny thing was, except for the few who were present at the actual scene of the crime, no one was even aware about the incident of the turd. In Rovers own (private) words to our team, war required tapping the primitive puppyish craving for the sensational, and he was doing them a service. Then arose the issue of the nay-sayers- the ones who asked questions (like Nosey Jim) and asked for incredulous things such as facts and rationale. These became the riveting interludes for our war-preparation reports. The propaganda team demoted them from citizens of Independence to allies of the enemy, and this news too was effectively conveyed. When the first few were effectively laid up, the others who had doubts about the necessity of war decided to shut up and stick with the mob for fear of ostracism.
Finally the actual preparations for war began. Rollo and Pollo became joint commanders of the army while Junior remained Commander-in-chief. Together they were put in command of an army of about twenty young and strong volunteers. Cicko became the war allocation Chief. And the first thing he did was to form a resource committee which charged the residents of Independence the physical requirements for carrying out this war, because he claimed that in sacrifice lay solidarity.
Not many of us understood or cared about anything beyond raw revenge and being left out, but it seemed obligatory to contribute to keep the sensationalism afloat.
Our first war effort was to inflict fear in the minds of Constitution residents – by doing unto them what they had done unto us. The first tactic was to have ten of our soldiers deposit smell bombs (war lingo for turds) in Constitution territory. Our soldiers, Cicko said, needed to be well fed for this tummy-turning effort.. Subsequently, each member of independence was required to snuggle a portion of their meal to Doobers yard in the afternoons. This requirement was paraded alongside a burst of reports from Rover’s propaganda team about perceived fear attacks and the valiant life of Old Pappy and other Independence heroes. This mandatory requirement for contributing our grub, for the first time, brought a murmur of dissent. But that got submerged in the flurry of reports and warnings about the enemy from the war administration.
The War committee and its propaganda team had a successful run. Within two weeks, the majority in Independence had been convinced, dissent had been quelled and Doober had accumulated a vast store of the choicest dog food in his backyard (for our soldiers, of course)
On the eve of the war, Doober Junior stood before the assembly of Independence residents on the top of a ledge outside his big red house, and in his most dramatic voice declared:
“Comrades, the war on Constitution has begun”
The early part of the offensive was carefully planned.
On Monday, ten of our soldiers, heavily fed at the Doobers yard and thus armed to the throat, went out in broad daylight to Constitution, and at locations predetermined by our earlier intelligence missions, relieved their wares. The same morning Rollo and his gang, in a brave move, bit the milkman (to impair food supply to Constitution- this was my idea) and the postman (Rollo’s initiative- to upend troop morale). The result- our intelligence group claimed- was chaos. We had caught Constitution unawares. There were howls of celebration that evening in Independence to celebrate our first tactical victory. Paws were raised in honor of our leader Doober Jr and his war team. The evening ended with pledges from the gathering to bring in more supplies.
The next day Constitution responded by sending in a bunch of flippant looking ambassadors to enquire about the incident. Rover insisted on the general public avoiding contact with the enemy team (to avoid war escalation, he said) and offered that he and his team professionally negotiate with them. The negotiations went on, in the shade of Doobers massive yard, for about half-an-hour and ended with two of the Constitution team being bitten in sensitive locales by Rollo and Pollo, and being chased all the way to the end of Independence by a barrage of soldiers.
I had not been assigned any particular post in the War Committee. But I was a part of the inner team anyway, and I hung out with Rover and his gang like always. By war rules, I was not present at the negotiating table between Independence and Constitution. But when Rover came out of the yard, I saw that he had a strange quirky smirk on his face and a swagger in his walk. He sighed- a sigh of content pleasure- and whispered, more to himself than to me:
“I thought those stupids would never react. Finally, it is time for the real war”
Rover was right, of course. The uproar over the turd incident escalated from retaliation into full fledged war under the Doober leadership. In three weeks Independence and Constitution had become mortally hostile. The propaganda and intelligence teams brought us news and warnings of vile and horrendous attack plans by Constitution. There were wild forays by our soldiers into enemy territory and some daring attacks by enemy troops in our soil. At the end of this time our soldiers and theirs were in a sorry state. Pollo had lost a part of an ear in a fight. Rollo’s nose and flank was a mess of scratches and bloody wounds. Most of the soldiers had festering gashes all over their bodies, and this had prompted some of them to be confined to their kennels. The propaganda team was now actively recruiting new soldiers for the ‘war against fear’. Our contributions to the war headquarters had become more over the period of the war. Everything in Independence (and Constitution) was a bewildering chaos in three war weeks.
The ironic part of the war was that, even though we had started out to defend our freedom at Independence, the actual fear had begun only after. There were no more meeting in the streets, none of the usual get-togethers or carefree assemblies, no friendly jousts or contests. Hell, we were even afraid of each other! We had changed. The war against fear brought into us fear and division- the pacifists were now pitted against the loyalists, the patriotic against the unpatiroric. The most predominant feeling at the end of it all was hate. The propaganda team claimed that this was expected during any war, but the war was justified for the sake of posterity and honor. We were now smuggling almost a half of our everyday meals as war supplies, and our bodies and tempers were stretching thinner by the day. Rover’s yard, which now contained stockpiles of canned dog food , was now banned for entry to everyone except Cicko, the Doobers and Roxy, because this was also the planning headquarters. They were carrying the brunt of the war more than anyone-or atleast that is what we all believed- they met every night for closed yard war discussions- when they were out with the public there was no dearth of inspiring messages from them about patriotism and courage.
I had started off as a loyal supporter of the war. I loved Independence and trusted that war was essential for leading us all into an era of peace and quiet. I believed in the unassailability of our honor and dignity and the Doober team had me thoroughly convinced that war was the only way to this end. Besides, the excitement that war brought into a mundane everyday existence appealed to my primeval instinct. I believe this was true of all of us in our street, including the ones who questioned the war itself. But out of the corners of the night- with personal food rations and friendships at stake – when hunger seeped past the thrill of battle into war weary brains- questions began to sprout in our minds like scrounging mold on soggy bread.
Around this time, Doober and his group brought up the possibility that we had a moral responsibility to expand the war beyond Constitution to nearby Kory and Iris Avenues- a veritable axis of fear.
I was worried.
Since the war had become full-blown, the War committee had imposed a night-curfew. Soldiers patrolled in the streets when it became dark and as Bathalome Bower down the street discovered, breaking the curfew resulted in terrible consequences on the integrity of ones’ ears. So, I was surprised, when Rover came to visit me in my yard one of the nights, well past the curfew start.
”How’s it going Rover?” I ventured cautiously. I could see he had puffed up a little since the start of the war.
“Not bad, Old Fella”, he replied. “Not bad at all, as times go”
“ Its past curfew hour” I said
“And who imposed the curfew, may I ask,” his voice was buttery. “And how are you, yourself?”
“Not too well, with the war and all”
“ Well, we all have to make our sacrifices, don’t we?”
“What brings you here Rover?”
“Just visiting an old friend. That is all”
I knew immediately he had come to gloat.
“ I saw you have a big collection of dog food cans in your yard now. I can see it piled above the parapet walls” I said
“Supplies, for our soldiers. But don’t be unduly worried. The war will take its course”
He sighed contently.
“You know, old friend, Dogs are so much stupider than I thought. It is so easy to impassion them. And it is so easy to divert their attention when they ask questions. I have learnt so much about dog nature from this war. Dogs I realize are like ants”
“Yup. What happens when two anthills are too close to each other? The ants fight like crazy, right? Over food, over space, over everything.”
“So what happens when you get ready to crush the whole bunch with a boulder? You would expect that the whole troop would fight their fight against you- their imminent destruction, wouldn’t you? NO! The ants won’t fight you, because you as a problem are too big for their perception. They would rather fight what they can, and that is themselves – You know, just like these dogs. They are fighting the perception of fear that I created for them”
I stared at Rover blankly. I did not see his point.
“Okay. Let me see if I can break it down for you. These dogs have engaged themselves in a war of epic proportions. Look at what they have given up…look how starved they look (he diverted his eyes away from me at this point)…look how scared they are to walk in the streets and of each other…look how tattered the soldiers are- some are invalid for life. But why? For a piece of turd that Roxy said was done by a Constitution kid. Personally, I would never believe anything that loon said. But the fight is not about the turd. The fight is about the perception of fear that I , yes I created in their minds- the fear that their freedom is at peril and the fear that their honor is at stake. That, and the fear of being left out. If they knew the earth was going to swallow them whole tomorrow, they will probably continue to fight with each other, because this fight is more palpable. Fear is such a beautiful leash” He mulled over the thought his mouth drooling in a grin.
“You know, I have often wished that dogs had religions, like the men and women who own us do. I have studied people and found that is the strongest leash of all because it tugs from within. If dogs had religions, it would have been so much easier to start the war. Doober would not have had to recruit his friend from Constitution”
I was bewildered.
“ Oh well. I know I can trust you to keep little secrets” He glared at me and the moon shone in his sharp little eyes. “ I know you keep secrets, especially because you would not want to be caught with evidence of aiding the enemies by Rollo and Pollo” I shuddered.
He smiled deviously and then yelped in laughter. “ I am kidding of course, Old friend. No one will believe you now anyway. But coming back to the point. The whole war thing was an idea that I and Cicko and the Doobers came up with. When we could not think up reasons to start a war, Doober Junior recruited his old friend from Constitution to lay that piece of turd. Witnessing from that loon Roxy and a little forceful emotiveness from our group and our job was done. Oh my, these dogs are stupid!”
He yelped and grinned again.
I was screaming with rage inside. “Why?” was all I could manage.
“Why?” He raised his eyebrows as if he were addressing a demented pup. “There’s a bit of a scientist in all of us, isn’t there? Even us dogs”
Rover looked up at the moon and gave out a contended sigh.
“ I better be going. There is much to think about.” he said pensively. Then he seemed to notice my presence.
“Thanks for listening mate. I feel so much lighter already”
He turned back to the gaping whole in the yard fence through which he had come in. To hell with tomorrow – I wanted to dig my fangs deep into his throat just then! But Rover was a big dog and I was scared. And Rovers soldiers were likely waiting beyond the fence.
He turned back to face me just when he was about to exit. “ You know what’s funny mate? The ones that come after me and try to be leaders- whether they love the war or now- are still going to support it. I have cornered them with public perception and nobody will want to seem unpatriotic. It will take a sheep in wolf’s clothing to undo my genius. But that will be a long time in the coming. So long, old friend. Don’t let any of this worry you. After all, truth is a perception too”
And, with that, he was gone.