They gave us a choice that day. Books or guns. It was that simple.
That’s how it appeared, at least. A few of the students thought it was a trick. A small group, led by Marcus DeShay, swore up and down that they’d heard something about a similar choice laid out before Benson Academy in the 1940’s, and the students who had chosen books were immediately expelled without recommendation for entry into other schools. Those who’d chosen the guns were the same men posing the question today. Books or guns?
In the past, the question held more impact. Countries were at war with each other and men all around volunteered their strength and their lives to the cause of their viewpoints (or their leader’s viewpoints).
We’d been without war for twenty years. I had only vague memories of my third birthday and the pops and whistles of gunfire and explosives in the distance near my childhood home. More vivid were the reminders of the peace that spread through the world shortly after the conflict died down. Pax Pangea they’d dubbed it on mediacasts, the perfect combination of classical historical terms and allusions to a connectedness of the world’s nations into one global mass, if not in land, in mindset.
While the open fighting had stopped throughout the world, the visualizations of warfare hadn’t. Arms stockpiles and military equipment remained visible along the interstates at military bases. Tanks arranged in a parking lot of sorts, warehouses full of missiles, ammunition and multiple types of weaponry dotted the landscape. And yet, the world rested, peaceful.
The term they’d applied in the 80’s was mutually assured destruction, and I suppose that was the effect in play as I entered Benson Academy. The utter hugeness of military mobilization on all sides created hesitation from world leaders which, while beneficial from a pacifist standpoint, did little for the psyche of the citizenry. Tensions were always as high as a trapeze-wire, ready for negotiations to tip too far one way and send the world tumbling into a maelstrom of gunfire – and without a safety net to break the eventual fall.
Rational people hardly ever left home, unless they knew exactly where they were going and how long it would take. Traffic congestion led to the impossibility of travel. Air travel became nearly impossible as well, unless you enjoyed day-long security checks. Nobody took any chances. Buses stopped running more than two lines a day, for fears of suicide bombers climbing aboard and putting the spark to the proverbial powder keg of world affairs. So imagine the thrill of spending a week of my youthful life to make my way to Benson Academy in upstate Virginia and being presented on the first day with a choice.
Books or guns? Guns or books?
I chose books. And it has made all the difference.