When I served in the army as an infantry soldier back in the mid-seventies, we were using Vietnam era equipment. The radio I carried in the field was given the nomenclature AN/PRC 77 (Army/Navy Portable Radio Communication 77) We called it a prick 77.
My battalion executive officer, second in command under the Battalion Commanding Officer, was a major whom nobody liked. He was a stickler for regulations and was too gung-ho for our taste. So naturally, we felt obliged to give him a nick-name. You guessed it – Prick 77.
On one occasion we were on a brigade-wide exercise out in the field at Fort Carson, Colorado. We were practicing a strategic withdrawal (retreat for you lay people). Everything was going fine when suddenly, a red flare went up into the night sky. This meant there had been some sort of accident and we all had to stop and hold in place. Within a few minutes word came that an officer and his jeep driver had been backed over by a tank, crushing their legs.
One of the guys in my squad said, “You don’t suppose it was Prick 77?” Everyone laughed and I said, “We couldn’t be so lucky.”
I would like to say I was joking, but I am not so sure. This major (I remember his name nut will not share it here) served on my NCO oral interview board, which I had to pass to be promoted to sergeant. The other members of the six-member board asked mostly technical questions, which were easy for me. When it came to his turn, he asked, “When I’m not around, what do the men in your platoon say about me?”
I wish I had just told the truth. “They hate your guts, sir. The call you prick 77.” But I chickened out and gave some wishy-washy answer. I looked over at my friend SFC Smith, who rolled his eyes. The board recommended my promotion. Anyway, I did not care much for Major Prick 77. It turned out the officer hurt in the accident was some captain I didn’t know.
There is a German word for my feelings toward the major – schadenfreaude. Shaden means malicious/hateful. Freude means joy. It’s the elation one feels at the though of something bad happening to someone you don’t like.
In the Bible, David had every reason to hate King Saul. Saul was jealous of David and forced him into exile and was trying to hunt him down with an army and kill him. Twice David was within a spear or sword thrust of an unaware Saul, and both times he spared him. David did not wish his enemy dead; he wished him to amend his ways. When it came to Saul, David did not feel schadenfreude.
Neither did Jesus when the Roman soldiers were hammering spikes through his wrists and ankles, pinning him to the cross. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
In Lincoln’s first inaugural address, he appealed to his countrymen that they allow their better angels to prevail, so that a civil war could be avoided. His appeal went un-heeded, and four years and 650,000 lives later, when the war was over, the triumphant President stood on the same spot and gave his second inaugural address. He had every reason to hate the secessionists and punish them severely. Most Northerners certainly were looking forward to some schadenfreude.
Instead Lincoln said, “With malice toward none and charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us bind up our nations wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
That’s a far cry from the language and the sentiments expressed by most of our politicians and their vehement supporters these days. As far as I can tell there is no discernable difference between Christians and unbelievers. The same vile rhetoric comes from the mouths and pens of both. Listen to Lincoln. There’s a reason is and ought to be revered as our greatest President. It’s not just that he saved the union and abolished slavery. It was his character and demeanor – his better angel.