In November of 1970 I called out to our English teacher John Young as he was leaving the classroom. Actually I didn’t call out, I shouted: “Yankee go home!” He blushed red and turned back; “Who was it who shouted?” he asked the class. Your humble servant had barely heard what came out of his own mouth and, beginning to feel frightened but trying not to lose courage, I admitted it had been me. He called me over to him; the other students in the class looked at me sideways and went out on a break, leaving me to get what was coming to me. “I am not American,” he said. “I know you are not a Yankee,” I said. I knew perfectly well that he was a redcoat. I was an avid reader of Tom Mix comic books.
But something I’d read in the paper the day before the “incident” made me feel so strongly the need to do something that I just had to “take action” against a person who spoke English.
Mr. Young took note of my stunt. Saying he was obliged to report it to the director, he left, condemning me to wonder until the end of the school year when I would be called to the director’s office. Not a grave punishment for an eleven year-old boy. I have not forgotten the incident even now, though it has been a long time since a teacher could call me into his office and bawl me out.
Intelligence or common sense?
In the December issue of Scientific American there was an article about how rational children are. It said that they are not illogical; on the contrary, they are overly rational. In the example given in the article, a boy asked to play Russian roulette made his decision based on whether there were one or two bullets in the gun and the size of the prize. That is to say, he calculated profit and loss, as we always advise people to do. He calculated that if he survived the game, he would be able to live for the rest of his life on the money he won. He made a sober assessment of the consequences of winning or losing. But if you propose the same thing to someone in their thirties, he will reject it out of hand, without giving it a second thought. The adult mind works without making use of rationality and logic, without giving things deep thought, while the mind of a young person is much more calculating and rational. At least on paper.
Whenever I see a young person doing something inhumane, something that harms another, I remember how I shouted “Yankee go home!” at Mr. Young. It is the young who are considered to lack self control, to be unable to stop themselves from doing whatever comes into their minds. Quarrelsomeness can also be a defense mechanism in a young person. At an age when we are beginning to act on our own account in life, we experiment with acting alone on the one hand, and on the other seek out groups of friends with whom we can find our footing. Our belligerent swaggering, our tendency to get into mischief, is little more than whistling in the dark. What we do, who we get mixed up with, changes according to the influences acting upon us in a given situation.
My “Yankee go home!”, which at the time seemed heroic to me and which my classmates still mention as an example of my foolishness, is the sort of thing everyone can find a million different versions of their life experience. Like many actions which seem the right thing to do at the time, one acts first and later tries to rationalize one’s behavior. In those days the phrase “Yankee go home” was scrawled on walls in Izmir right next to “Sixth Fleet get lost!”, and it was the first English sentence most people learned. The fact is that I do not remember the reason why I yelled that slogan at Mr. Young, don’t remember what it was I had read in the newspaper the day before. For a long time I thought my “political action” had to do with reading about Bloody Sunday in the paper. Only later did I realize that Bloody Sunday happened in February of 1969, and though I searched internet newspaper archives many times for what might have happened to “provoke” me in November of 1970, I could find nothing. De Gaulle died, Turkey signed an agreement to join the European Economic Community (predecessor of today’s European Union), etc., etc.
Why youth? It is beyond the limits of this piece to seek out the logical element in the behavior of youth, or examine what it is they mean by being heroic or serving their country. I don’t chase down questions I can’t answer. But whenever it is a matter of things young people “get mixed up in,” one of the first questions everyone asks is: “Why young people? Why not others?” Is there some force preventing “a culture that makes a child into a seventeen year-old killer” from producing a twenty-seven or thirty-seven year-old killer out of the millions of people who have the same mentality? Is it because young people run faster, or because they are most easily led astray, are the most despairing, the most most? Or is it because the median age of people in Turkey is 27.5, and so most of us are young, or even childish in mind? Does being young or childish in mind mean one is stupid? On the contrary…
The mind of a child (according to Scientific American) sees everything as it is, perfectly within the bounds of logic. This means that a child says what he sees; he says the emperor has no clothes, for example, if that is the case. It means that if adults say within your hearing that the neighbor lady “has put on a lot of weight,” as soon as you see her you tell her: “My mother says that you are very fat.”
In fact the mental filter which develops as one grows up reflects common sense rather than intelligence. The young mind is a mechanism which generally operates according to straight logic, which it can put into action without the slightest scruple regarding its object, and so responds directly to conceptual evil and enmity.
The young mind does whatever it believes should be done, and can sacrifice itself or others because it does not yet understand the value of life. If the life experience which transforms youthful intelligence into common sense is not of the kind which teaches youth the value of its own life, let alone that of others, then youth never ends. In this sense youth—the condition of those who have not yet had the chance to become who they are—is a melancholy space of time when life is valued least of all. That is why killers, saboteurs and swindlers prey not upon the grey-haired and pot-bellied but the (suspended) intelligence of youth. How can this be prevented?
*translated by Victoria Hollbrooke