Sunday, September 29, 2013

  • Sunday, September 29, 2013
  • Elder of Ziyon
By James Thurber, first published in The New Yorker on August 26, 1939:

Within the memory of the youngest child there was a family of rabbits who lived near a pack of wolves. The wolves announced that they did not like the way the rabbits were living. (The wolves were crazy about the way they themselves were living, because it was the only way to live.) One night several wolves were killed in an earthquake and this was blamed on the rabbits, for it is well known that rabbits pound on the ground with their hind legs and cause earthquakes. On another night one of the wolves was killed by a bolt of lightning and this was also blamed on the rabbits, for it is well known that lettuce-eaters cause lightning. The wolves threatened to civilize the rabbits if they didn't behave, and the rabbits decided to run away to a desert island. But the other animals, who lived at a great distance, shamed them saying, "You must stay where you are and be brave. This is no world for escapists. If the wolves attack you, we will come to your aid in all probability." So the rabbits continued to live near the wolves and one day there was a terrible flood which drowned a great many wolves. This was blamed on the rabbits, for it is well known that carrot-nibblers with long ears cause floods. The wolves descended on the rabbits, for their own good, and imprisoned them in a dark cave, for their own protection.

When nothing was heard about the rabbits for some weeks, the other animals demanded to know what had happened to them. The wolves replied that the rabbits had been eaten and since they had been eaten the affair was a purely internal matter. But the other animals warned that they might possibly unite against the wolves unless some reason was given for the destruction of the rabbits. So the wolves gave them one. "They were trying to escape," said the wolves, "and, as you know, this is no world for escapists."

Moral: Run, don't walk, to the nearest desert island.
It may be time to write a sequel.

The Rabbits Still Cause All the Trouble

Despite the wolves' efforts, a small number of rabbits did manage to escape to join cousins of theirs on the edge of a desert peninsula, the very desert where the rabbits' ancestors originally came from. While there were a large number of hyenas inland, who would catch and eat a few rabbits now and then, the rabbits felt safer and at home on their patch of land. They could even - for the first time in many generations - band together to fight back against their enemies to keep their tiny homeland relatively safe.

The hyenas were alarmed, for rabbits had never stood up to them before. They used to be able to catch and eat rabbits easily, but now they had to contend with traps and snares that the rabbits invented. The Hyena League asked for advice from the foxes of the world as how to best deal with the rabbits, once and for all, since the foxes had so much experience.

The clever foxes knew that the other animals never really liked the rabbits much, even when they were being eaten by the foxes. Their sly plan was for the hyenas to convince the other animals, who lived at an even greater distance, that the rabbits were threatening them. By repeating the words "aggressive killer rabbits" and "poor defenseless hyenas" and "hyenas losing their land" over and over and over again, the other animals soon started to believe that the hyenas were being persecuted and the rabbits were murdering them in droves. (Some of the animals even believed that landslides in the hyena country were caused by rabbits, since it was well known that rabbits like to dig holes.)

Eventually many of the animal told the rabbits that if only they would give part of their homeland to the hyenas, then the hyenas would be happy and the fighting would end. The rabbits, who just wanted to be left alone, tried to take the animals' advice, but the hyenas started attacking the rabbits even more. As a result, the rabbits had to build more hyena traps. The hyenas cried to the Animal Union that the rabbits were oppressing them even more. 

The Animal Union, which has a very short memory  (and whose members were secretly afraid of the hyenas themselves,) believed the accusations, and demanded that the rabbits give up a little more of their land, and then some more, saying that surely the hyenas - being reasonable animals - would eventually be happy. The dismayed rabbits tried to argue that they were the prey and not the predators, but the Union said that the hyenas seemed very convincing in their desire for peace.

The story hasn't ended yet, but it still has a moral: Don't rely on others to defend your desert island. 

(h/t Joel B)

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