TV offered a window to a world far broader and more exciting than what I felt were the limitations of growing up on a Vermont dairy farm.
When I was about 5 years old, I was sitting on the overstuffed chair in our living room, watching a movie on our black and white TV. The plot concerned a wagon train heading out west, and the settlers were attacked by what we then called “Indians.” The battle was fierce and the fighting intense – even the women were firing guns to defend themselves.
Suddenly, above the din of the battle, there was the familiar bugle call of a cavalry charge. I cheered out loud, “Yay!”
My father, who seldom was seen inside the house, happened to walk through the living room on his way to his bedroom on the other side.
He asked, “Why are you cheering?”
“The cavalry are coming!” I shouted excitedly.
“But why are you cheering? They’re just going to kill the Indians.”
“So why would you cheer at that?”
“Because the Indians are the bad guys!” Duh.
“No they’re not; the Indians are the good guys.”
My father was always playing these kinds of games with me, teasing me to make me laugh. “No, the SETTLERS are the good guys!”
My father sat down next to me on the couch. He explained, “Roger, the Indians lived in this country for thousands of years. Then, white men came and forced them off their land. They pushed them into small reservations, or murdered them when they refused to go. So the Indians are only trying to protect themselves from an invasion. So who would you call the bad guys? The invaders stealing their land? Or, the people protecting their homes and families?”
He got up, fetched whatever he had needed from his bedroom, and returned to the barn.
I sat, thunderstruck. All my young life, I had seen the Indians as bad guys, and the cowboys as good guys. Now, I could not. I thought further. I decided that NO ONE thinks of themselves as a bad guy. Everyone thinks of themselves as the good guy. That was true for the Russians, and even my older brother.
From that day forward, my idea of “good” versus “bad” was never clear.