A few days ago I was in a discussion on Facebook about Kyle Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old who was recently found not guilty of killing two men and wounding a third. His defense was that he acted in self-defense and I watched enough of the trial (between 7 and 9 hours) to be convinced that the jury got it right.
But that’s not what I’m posting on here. I’m posting about a view I’ve heard many around me express, a view that I held and now don’t. The view is that Kyle Rittenhouse was a fool for putting himself in a volatile situation where he could be hurt. According to this view, he should have stayed home in Illinois, 15 miles away, where he would have been safe.
Here’s why I’ve changed my mind. What came out at the trial was that Rittenhouse really did go to Kenosha, Wisconsin to defend people’s property after seeing rioters inflict substantial damage on various businesses. His father lived in Kenosha. He had a job in Kenosha. Presumably he knew a number of people in Kenosha whom he cared about. I’ve thought about other young people who have put themselves in situations where their lives are at risk in order to defend people whom, and property which, they care about.
There are many such examples. The young person who swims out to save someone from drowning even though he might drown too. The young person who enters a burning building to save someone trapped inside.
Notice that those are both actions to save people’s lives whereas Rittenhouse’s goal was to protect people’s property. But property is pretty important too.
When I was a kid, my family went to see Audie Murphy play himself in the movie To Hell and Back. Based on his own life, the movie told of his heroism in World War II. He falsified documents to join the Army 10 days after he turned 17. He received many medals for his heroism as an infantryman.
It never occurred to me to call Audie Murphy a fool. He joined a cause that he believed in. The fact that he tried to join shortly after the Japanese government’s attack on Pearl Harbor strongly suggests that he saw himself as defending the United States.
But what is the United States? It’s a collection of people and property. Many of these people, but not all, share important values. So that’s what Murphy saw himself as defending.
You don’t have to think that Kyle Rittenhouse was as heroic as Audie Murphy to see that both put themselves in danger to work for something they believed in. Clearly Audie Murphy took more risks than Kyle Rittenhouse, but I don’t hear people saying that Kyle was a fool because he didn’t take enough risks.
Maybe Rittenhouse was a fool because he was too young to take those risks. But then we’re back to Audie Murphy. Murphy was only months older than Rittenhouse when he actually saw combat. Was Audie Murphy a fool for doing what he did while still so young? I don’t think so.