Flogging could be just the right incentive

April 15, 1994|By Amy Wu

HE'S your typical 18-year-old troublemaker who is bad because he's bored. You're lucky he hasn't displayed his artwork on your car, taken your hubcaps or thrown a rotten egg at your window. Unfortunately, he did some of these things in Singapore, a city of law and order where you can be charged as a delinquent for chewing gum.

Michael Fay made a big mistake. He spray-painted some cars and threw eggs at them. His punishment is to be six whacks on the behind with a rattan cane. Now he's panicky, he's desperate, he's remorseful and even the president of the United States is trying to get him out of this mess.

But there is something simplistic and powerful about using whacks on the behind as corporal punishment, a back-to-the-basics method that may be the answer to the growing violence in this country. Too many 18-year-olds are running wild, waving guns, pointing them at people. Too many young people are bad and, most dangerously, too many are fearless. They roll their eyes at lectures, laugh at teachers when suspended and think of a night in jail as an adventure. They brag about their badness and bravery to friends. To the average 18-year-old, everything is like a TV sitcom.

Young people always think they can get away with whatever they do. It's a warped philosophy that their age is their excuse.

Law and order can be attained with a few whacks on one's behind. It's discipline at its simplest.

It's far cheaper than building jails and housing hoodlums, robbers and killers.

If Michael Fay knew that he might be sentenced to a few whacks, he would have thought twice before he vandalized cars. I'm sure that all of those wild and reckless teen-agers who make the front page of newspapers for robbing stores and shooting their friends for fun would think twice if the potential punishment were flogging. Most people don't mind paying a fine or spending a few weeks in jail; they fear pain.

In the past few years, spanking has diminished. Blame it on the psychology hocus-pocus that urges parents to talk with their rebellious teen-agers. My classmate's parents clipped Dr. Joyce Brother's columns out of papers and read Dr. Ruth's books that urged them to ask their teen-agers questions, to understand their thoughts and feelings. Their chats were as productive as talking to a pet rock.

What will truly instill fear in my compatriots is the image of themselves being tied to a wooden board and being whacked by a martial-arts expert who resembles a malnourished sumo wrestler. At the first whack the skin splits open, at the second the behind is as red and pulpy as a crushed tomato. Michael Fay may not deserve six whacks -- that may be too severe -- but he deserves at least one. That would ensure that he would have something to remember; it's not easy to forget pain, humiliation and fear, real or imagined.

I remember a recent Wednesday afternoon when I ventured onto the dangerous streets of Washington Heights for a news story about a slain cashier. On the day I went, a young man had sped through a boulevard and fired bullets into the air, another cashier had been shot and was in critical condition, two stores were robbed, and one teen-ager bashed another one's face with a bottle.

If these young people knew that their punishment would be flogging, they would straighten up; flogging is something a 300-pound bully would fear.

"Nobody here's afraid of anything," one young man told me. "Everyone's been to jail once and it ain't so bad. They even got TV and food."

There has been much talk lately about ways to reduce violence; you know something's wrong when the Japanese are scared to come to Rockefeller Center. The Toys for Guns program proved to be a success, but it's merely a temporary and limited shot at lessening violence.

Just a few days ago, an amateur video caught a horde of teen-agers torching air conditioners, throwing fire bombs and running like wild wolves in Houston. To them, it's just another wild night out -- it's fun, it's daring, it's stupid; at 18 you live in a world without consequences. Would the incident have happened they knew that they could be punished by severe spanking? I think not.

So here's to Michael Fay from one 18-year-old to another: "Take it like a man, sonny. You've done something bad, so face up to your consequences. Remember the pain, the humiliation and fear. Let's hope you've learned your lesson."

For the rest of us in society, it's one less wild and reckless teen-ager on the streets, and possibly -- when Fay returns, an example to us -- the beginning of the end of youthful violence.

Amy Wu is a student at New York University.

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