Revenge of the Nerd

"He can be compelled who does not know how to die."

"That's IT. I've HAD it with bourgeois-liberal guilt!" In disgust, my friend slammed Lillian Rubin's new book back across the table at me. We had been reading a hospital scene (one of many) from Quiet Rage, Rubin's account of the Bernhard Goetz case: a wounded boy lying on a hospital bed in a darkened room, a boy barely able to move, murmuring "Mama, Mama!" over and over. It's a scene right out of an old-fashioned tear-jerker like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. What Lillian Rubin neglects to mention, however, is that the pathetic child-victim in this scene—actually a youth, 19 years old—was, at the time depicted, under indictment for armed robbery. The armament: a shotgun.

Shortly before Christmas 1984, Bernhard Hugo Goetz shot and seriously wounded four young men, passengers on a New York City subway train. Before he disappeared into the winter evening, Goetz told the conductor that the four had been trying to rob him and that he'd fired only in self-defense. By the time Goetz turned himself over to the police a week later, "The Subway Vigilante" had become a New York celebrity. There had been a huge outpouring of public sympathy and support for him, evident in all the radio talk shows. There were suggestions that the shooter...

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