Marc Estrin : Slaughter of the Innocents

Image from picsdigger.


By Marc Estrin / The Rag Blog / June 6, 32010

Toward the end of Bread & Puppet’s marvelous Christmas Story, after the news spreads of Jesus’s birth, King Herod picks up the phone:

“Hello, Third Army? Go straight to Bethlehem and kill all the children.”

In the next scene a large soldier marches in, in full battle array, and knocks on the door of a tiny puppet house.

”Good evening, Ma’am. Do you happen to have any children in the house?”
“Oh, yes, of course,” the little hand-puppet says. “Hansie and Mariechen.”
“Can you bring them out, please?”
“Oh certainly, Sergeant. But…why?
“We want to kill them.”

The mother then tells the sergeant an amazing story that he’ll “never believe, but…” about how the children were just taking a bath and then — by accident — they were washed down the drain. The sergeant, stupefied, weeps.

“Oh, lady, that’s really terrible. Allow me to extend the condolences of the entire Third Army.”

He marches off to the next house where he finds that the six children happened to have just marched off six weeks ago and haven’t come back yet.

“Men, King Herod isn’t going to be too pleased about this.”

The next house turns out to be the Bethlehem Nursery, “And we have 55 sweet, little darlings fast asleep in their sweet little beddy-byes,” says the Nurse out her window, “AND YOU GORILLAS ARE WAKING THEM UP WITH YOUR SCREAMING. You better go play soldier somewhere else, or I’ll call the authorities.”

“Lady,” says the sergeant, “we are the authorities.”

The Slaughter of the Innocents is not an aspect of the Christmas story dwelt on during our consumerist, Hallmarky season. In fact, it’s not dwelt on at any other time — whether the Innocents be the Iraqi, Afghani, Pakistani, or Palestinian dead, the humanitarians aboard the Mavi Marmara or the recipients of its aid, Rachel Corrie herself, crushed by an Israeli bulldozer, or the newly oiled seabirds, fish and fishermen in the Gulf.

“I’ll call the authorities,” the public says, only to discover that “We” — the perpetrators — “ARE the authorities.”

It was the authorities who set up the enrichment of the rich and the impoverishment of the rest. It is the authorities who promote the mass murders of the military industrial complex with their endless wars and genocides, and who pocket the cash and power. It is the authorities who enable the destruction for profit of the environment, and call for economy on collapsing infrastructures, concrete and human. Is current “authority” any less than a sociopathic criminal enterprise?

The moment captured at the end of the Bread & Puppet Christmas Story provides the insouciant watchword of our time: “Lady, we are the authorities.”

[Marc Estrin is a writer and activist, living in Burlington, Vermont. His novels, Insect Dreams, The Half Life of Gregor Samsa, The Education of Arnold Hitler, Golem Song, and The Lamentations of Julius Marantz have won critical acclaim. His memoir, Rehearsing With Gods: Photographs and Essays on the Bread & Puppet Theater (with Ron Simon, photographer) won a 2004 theater book of the year award. He is currently working on a novel about the dead Tchaikovsky.]

Soldier standing at attention (1914). Photo by A.W. Barton / Archives of Ontario.

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