By Michael Medved, 2001
How could an intelligent, well-behaved American child with adoring, supportive and conspicuously wealthy parents grow up to betray his country and join the al-Qaida terrorists in Afghanistan? The bizarre case of John Phillip Walker Lindh (otherwise known as John Walker, Abdul Hamid and Suleyman al-Lindh) became far more comprehensible to me after I overheard a revealing interchange in a video game software store at the height of Christmas season.
Waiting in line to buy a gift for my 9-year-old son, I stood behind an elegantly dressed suburban lady who asked the store's assistant manager if they carried "Grand Theft Auto III." The young man behind the counter admitted somewhat sheepishly that they sold the game she wanted, but he urged her not to buy it. "It's really pretty disgusting," he said. "Just about the most violent thing we carry. You really sure you want it?" "It's not for me," she defensively replied. "It's for my son. He's 15, and it's at the top of his Christmas list."
"But you really ought to get something else," the employee persisted. "Honestly, this game has players running drugs, stealing cars, shooting cops, hanging out with hookers, doing sex with the prostitutes inside the cars. You really want to get that sort of thing for a 15-year-old kid?" The lady began to lose patience, visibly eager to proceed with her holiday shopping. "Look, this is what he wants," she snapped. "He'd be upset if I got him something else. Are you willing to sell it to me, or do I have to go elsewhere?" The assistant store manager—who at this point looked like an everyday hero in my eyes—complied with her request, and wrapped the game up for the 15-year-old monster that the lady spoiled and corrupted at home.
Her insistence on buying a wildly inappropriate gift ("Grand Theft Auto" to celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace?) highlights the "kids know best" attitude that has poisoned an entire generation of American young people, including that 20-year-old traitor in Afghanistan. Baby boom parents will give absolutely everything to their pampered kids—except the disapproval and immutable standards that they need most.
Consider the case of the pathetic Mr. Walker (he prefers to use his mother's name rather than his father's). He grew up in Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco area, the son of a well-to-do corporate lawyer and his commercial photographer wife. The parents demonstrated their enlightened attitudes by keeping their respective last names (they've now been divorced for three years) and naming their son after John Lennon. In Marin County, Calif., he enrolled in an "alternative school," whose student body, according to the principal, featured "motivated, self-directed learners."
At age 16, young John directed himself into Islam, after feeling inspired by "The Autobiography of Malcolm X." His father maintained at least a nominal commitment to Catholicism and the mother dabbled in New Age Buddhism, so the addition of a Muslim son (who soon began wearing Islamic robes, beards and skullcaps) allowed the family to become its very own gorgeous, multi-cultural mosaic. Naturally, the parents encouraged him "to follow his own religious path" and even agreed to send him away to an Islamic school in Yemen.
From there, he drifted to Pakistan, and on to Afghanistan where, according to Northern Alliance soldiers who spoke with him, he trained at al-Qaida terrorist camps. He also fought with the Taliban in Kunduz, Kabul and Kandahar, before turning up as one of the survivors from the prison riot at Mazar-e-Sharif and telling Newsweek that he approved of the Sept. 11 attacks on his country. He also spoke proudly to reporters about the noble Taliban as "the only government that actually provides Islamic law."
In response to all this, the proud papa, Frank Lindh, appeared on "Larry King Live" and said he wanted to give his erstwhile son "a big hug" whenever he came home. Yes, Mr. Lindh also betrayed some minor irritation—not for anything as insignificant as treason, but rather for John's unconscionable failure to keep in touch with his parents for the last six months. He concluded with the declaration that as far as he could see, the "shy, sweet boy" (his mother's words) had "done nothing wrong."
Like the parents of the 15-year-old who demanded a sleazy video game, the Lindh-Walkers couldn't even conceive of the idea of telling their son "no." "You want to go away to school at an Islamic fundamentalist academy in one of the world's most backward, dangerous and benighted nations? Sure, sonny boy, here's your ticket to Yemen." "You want to spend happy hours amusing yourself with a video game about abusing prostitutes and stealing cars? Of course, my dearest darling, and here's the lovely $50 Christmas gift you crave."
By insisting on loving support for their child, even after he picked up an AK-47 and did battle against his own countrymen, the Lindh-Walkers only carried the values of current child-rearing practices to their logical conclusion. Children today can do no wrong, and Yuppie parents will back them on even the most destructive paths. Until we all learn to say "no way" as easily as we say "yes, dear"—and to understand that expressions of rebuke and chastisement are at least as valuable as words of affection and approval—we can expect ever-increasing instances of heartbreak and insanity from our children.