Bill Pirkle’s column “A man holds his honor like water in his hands” (May 20) recently raised some important issues related to gangs, dueling and the concept of honor.
Some thoughts on the subjects of single combat and trial by combat are in order. Single combat is a duel between two champions each representing an army. Ancient battles were often decided by such battles because of the belief that heavenly forces uphold the arm of the righteous. In trial by combat, a man that was defamed would throw down his glove. Picking up the gauntlet led to a date, time and place being set for a trial by armed combat. Eventually, however, cross-examination replaced swords, hammers and axes as engines for searching out the truth.
According to Thomas Sowell in “Black Rednecks and White Liberals,” immigration into Appalachia and the Southern hill country during the 1700s and early 1800s was primarily from the English borderlands and highlands of Scotland, where life had been chronically unpredictable and violent for generations (think of Ulster). Failure to react to an insult invited dire consequences. Sowell cites one Southern duel resolved with a man shot-gunning his best friend, then butchering him with a Bowie knife in front of a crowd of horrified onlookers. Such duels rarely resulted in convictions because most members of the jury knew they would have done the same thing.
When dueling was finally outlawed, according to Clayton E. Cramer in “Concealed Weapon Laws of the Early Republic,” concealed weapons became a problem in the South because one or both parties might provoke one another to initiate a fight, then obtain satisfaction by unexpectedly producing an equalizer. Southern lawmakers reasoned that requiring citizens to bear weapons openly would cause folks to think twice before creating a fracas.
Should we resurrect the concept of dueling? Violence in schools and gang-conflict often relate to the sense of honor that is innate in all cultures and people. We bequeath to our children an environment in which many of us have dishonored each other and our young in so many ways.
Pornography and other “entertainment” dishonors women and children. We dishonor our unborn children, insult God and injure our kids with divorce. Pornography, divorce and substance abuse often lead to physical abuse and kids with addictions of their own. Reviving the duel (an invitation to murder) just causes more dishonor to the image of our creator that God has stamped into each person.
Gang life is a false substitute for family that imitates a code of honor. Real honor protects our families. Thomas Sowell describes the people of New England that came from a different part of England than the border rednecks and in a different time. Work habits and other social attitudes of New Englanders were more stable and subdued. But such a people can mistakenly conclude that any risk is unacceptable and that every injury should be overlooked.
When honor is so dimly remembered that refusal to take “extreme” measures becomes public policy, such a people will not long survive.