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William H. Benson

December 13, 2007

     On December 21, 2007, we are expected to salute all of the underdogs and unsung heroes—the Number 2 people who contribute so much to the Number One people. We call it Underdog Day, and we are expected to honor certain characters, such as Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes, Friday to Robinson Crusoe, Tonto to the Lone Ranger, Robin to Batman, Lois Lane to Superman, Barney Fife to Andy Taylor, and Dale Evans to Roy Rogers.

     All of us begin life as underdogs: we are the children at home or in the daycare, then we are students at school, and then we start our first job. Ugh!

     Kurt Vonnegut, the writer, invented the term “granfallon” to describe a great bubble that someone must puncture in order to see the complexity or rot that dwells inside it. In every social group, every granfallon, there is a sorting and shuffling process that gives rise to a pecking order with clear winners, also-ran’s, and losers—both the powerless, as well as the guy who stands at the apex of the pyramid. Once “dug in” on the bottom, as is the underdog, it is the rare individual, who can find the path up and out, to the top.

     Who dares to start the trek upward, to puncture the granfallon, to reshuffle the deck?

Individuals often discover that it has to be done collectively, with the support of others.

     An example was the women’s liberation movement of the 1960’s. Alone, women felt powerless, but together in small local groups they began rethinking their traditional roles, rejected the premise of their inferiority, gained confidence in themselves, forged bonds with others who felt the same, and defied a system that had relegated them to the house and the kids. They asked for more.

     Gradually, the once secure bastions of male power and privilege were forced to open their doors to women—first Yale and Princeton, then the medical and law schools, the astronaut corps, and the Supreme Court. And someday the Oval Office. Betty Frieden, the author of The Feminine Mystique, said that, “The only way for a woman, as for a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own.”

     At the bottom of the social heap in America are the tenants housed in the nation’s prisons. Long have they been isolated from the community that surrounds the prison. Little support within and without has created a most miserable life there. Underdogs without much hope. Howard Zinn, the historian, wrote that, “In general the courts have declared their unwillingness to enter the closed, controlled world of the prison, and so the prisoners remained as they have been so long, on their own.”

     Outside of the United States live the citizens of those countries which the President and Congress have decided to drop bombs upon. They are the true underdogs. Today it is the men, women, and children of Iraq. Forty years ago, it was the Vietnamese, and before them it was the Koreans. Who will suffer the wrath emanating from the Oval Office next time around?

     Robert Bowman, a former U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, wrote in 1998 the following: “We are not hated because we practice democracy, value freedom, or uphold human rights. We are hated because our government denies these same  things to people in Third World countries whose resources we covet. Instead of sending our sons and daughters around the world to kill Arabs so we can have the oil under their sand, we should send them to rebuild their infrastructure, supply clean water, and feed starving children. We should do good instead of evil. Who would try to stop us? Who would hate us? Who would want to bomb us? That is the truth the American people need to hear.”

     Zinn wrote, “Voices like Bowman’s were mostly shut out of the major American media after the September 11 attacks.”


     The Christmas season is upon us, a time when we should think about extending a helping hand to the downtrodden, the oppressed, the fallen, the factotum in a dog’s body, the underdogs. So many people who live near to us have been swept aside or are caught up in systems not of their own making, and thus they live lives that are stifled and utterly miserable. This Christmas, this year, do we dare puncture these granfallon?