The Great Lemming Race
by Butler Shaffer
"Wake up, son," Papa Lemming shouted as he ran into Little Boy Lemming’s bedroom. "President George W. Lemming has just announced that all lemmings, particularly the young ones, are going to have the honor of participating in the great race to the Persian Gulf! There’s even talk of restoring the draft in order to get more participants."
"Who wants to restore the draft?," asked Little Boy.
"A number of politicians and neocons," said Papa.
"I thought those guys didn’t like the label ‘neocon.’ It means ‘new conservative,’ and they get upset when people use it to describe them. They’re really ‘former conservatives,’ aren’t they?"
"All right, son, if you insist. If they are former conservatives, let’s not call them ‘neocons,’ but ‘ex-cons.’ Is that better?"
"I suppose so, Papa. People being so touchy about what they are called, we shouldn’t go out of our way to offend anyone. But tell me, Papa, why should lemmings be drafted? For what purpose?," Little Boy inquired.
"Why, to take part in the great race to the sea."
"But Papa," queried Little Boy, "isn’t that one of those marches to the sea where everyone dies?"
"You shouldn’t look at it that way, son," Papa responded. "After all, it’s a great lemming tradition."
"But why do we do it, Papa? Why does President George W. Lemming say we have to do it again this year?"
"It’s a matter of ‘honor,’ my boy," Papa trumpeted with pride.
"What ‘honor’ is there in marching off to die, Papa? Why should we do that?"
"Because the Forces-of-Evil lemmings have challenged us to a race, son. If we don’t meet their challenge we will lose face."
"I think I’d rather lose my face than my whole life, Papa," Little Boy replied.
"There you go, thinking only of yourself, son. What have your Ma and I taught you?"
"That ‘greedy’ people are those who put their selfish interests ahead of ours?"
"That’s right, son. Now, then, you wouldn’t want to be thought of as ‘greedy’ and ‘selfish,’ would you? Besides, you must think of the tradition. Don’t you remember me telling you about your great-great-great-grandfather, Caleb Lemming, who took part in General Sherman Lemming’s great march to the sea? And your great-uncle, Willard Lemming, who died on the beaches at Normandy? You wouldn’t want to dishonor the family and let that fine tradition die, would you?"
"Is that what you want me to do, Papa? Do you want me to die in order to keep a tradition alive? I thought you always told me that you and Ma loved me!"
"Well, . . . uh, . . . that is, . . .," Papa stammered.
"Besides," Little Boy continued, "what’s wrong with wanting to live? I just want to meet some young female lemming and get married and have some little lemmings to love."
"Is that all that’s worrying you, son?," Papa replied with a sense of relief. "Why that problem will be taken care of for you: any future draft will include women as well as men. You might meet a real nice female lemming in boot camp, or on your march to the sea, and . . ."
"Women are going to be drafted, too?," interrupted Little Boy. "But why, Papa?"
"Well, son, the best I can figure it, the women have been complaining that they don’t have the same rights as men. They want ‘equality,’ and the government’s gonna give them a good dose of it."
"Do the women want to go die, Papa?"
"Not as best I can tell, son, but it’s the principle of the thing that’s important. Why do you ask?"
"Well," Little Boy went on, "I don’t see how it can be considered a ‘right’ to be forced to do things that you don’t want to do. That just doesn’t make any sense, Papa."
"Son, it’s kinda like what I always told you about work. You know, how work is the most important thing there is to do. But work is all those things we don’t like to do. If we like what we’re doing, that’s play and not work."
"But how does this relate to our having ‘rights,’ Papa?," Little Boy inquired.
"It’s like this, son. Our ‘rights’ are important, too. And just like ‘work’ involves doing the things we don’t like to do, the exercise of our ‘rights’ is also doing what we don’t like to do. That’s why we have political leaders, to force us to do things none of us want to do so that we can be free. Don’t you listen to what those neocon – oops, ex-con – guys have been telling you? They’ve figured out all of this for us."
"Did the ex-cons and President George W. Lemming go through all of this, too, Papa? Did they take part in previous marches to the sea?," Little Boy asked.
"Well, er, uh, . . . I don’t think so, son. Most of them had what they call ‘draft deferments’ during the last great crusade, the march to the Gulf of Tonkin, when the Big Red lemmings challenged us to a race."
"But why would that be, Papa?," Little Boy inquired. "If there is honor and tradition in these great suicide marches to the sea, why didn’t they go? Aren’t these men honorable? Is the reason they are ex-cons because they have given up on the lemming traditions?"
"The best way I can explain it, son, is like this: if we are going to remain ‘free’ and have ‘equal rights,’ we have to have great leaders around to insure these things. Hasn’t President Lemming talked about his ‘Operation Enduring Freedom?’ Well, we can’t have such leaders if they’re going to die in these great marches to the sea, now can we? That’s why the same rules that apply to the rest of us don’t apply to them."
"Let me see if I understand all of this, Papa," Little Boy intoned. "Do you mean that we are ‘free’ only when the government is forcing all of us to do what we don’t want to do, and that our political leaders have to be exempt from all of this so that they can guarantee our ‘equal’ rights to be coerced and to die in the name of our ‘freedom?’"
"As I understand what President Lemming and those ex-cons have been saying, I think that’s about it," Papa replied. "Well, son, if they reinstitute the draft will you go down and register for it?"
"I don’t think so, Papa. I think I’ll go to Canada and enroll in a university," Little Boy replied.
"A university? Whatever for? What will you study?"
"Lemmings, Papa, . . . lemmings!"
March 13, 2003
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law.