When Is a Friend Not a Friend? Anti-Bullying Awareness Month

The emergence and popularity of superheroes in the 1930s coincided with the increasingly destructive power of Hitler’s troops during that decade. To call the horrific acts of his regime “bullying” is beyond understatement, and yet it was just that, taken to the nth degree. October is ANTI-BULLYING MONTH. The linked website states:  “Bullying is the most common form of violence in schools (verbally and physically) – One incident of bullying occurs every seven minutes”. I didn’t verify that statistic, but many years of teaching suggests that, on average, this may well be true.

Awareness of bullying and of strategies we can use to prevent it, recognize it, intervene, and support those victimized is essential. Not just this month, or this year, or only in schools. We need to recognize patterns of bullying in our daily lives: at home, at work, in our communities, and even in governments.

Some bullying (shouting, threats, physical intimidation) is obvious to the victim and everyone in the area. But what about bullying that disguises itself as friendship? With kids this is often defined as negative peer pressure (to shoplift, to smoke, to cut class or even to join in bullying others). People who are made to feel they must  act against their values and wishes in order to retain friendships, be accepted in a group, or to avoid becoming a victim themselves are being bullied. That’s true if you are in preschool, college, an office, or anywhere power is used as a tool to control you and make you act against your values and conscience.

That can happen to an entire country, as it did to Norway during World War II. By spring of 1940 Germany was totally controlled by Adolf Hitler. His forces invaded most of the continental landmass of Europe and plowed relentlessly beyond, aiming for England and Scandinavia on his path to world domination. Norway offered extensive coastlines, mountain fortifications, deep fjords, and abundant natural resources.  Norway was an essential “partner” in Germany’s plans to provide war resources and domination of the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

Hitler used the friendship ploy to reach his goal. Despite armed resistance, his forces occupied Norway on April 9, insisting all the while that they came as partners, for Norway’s protection. He  installed his minions to replace elected officials in Norway, imposing rules by force.

These are the tactics of a bully, one willing to use whatever level of force or social pressure necessary to acquire control and overcome resistance. Some, whether from fear or misguided values, succumbed to and even supported the German occupiers/invaders. Many others, though, did not.

Little did Hitler realize the depth of Norwegian national pride and ingenuity his troops would encounter. Standing up against the invaders took many forms, some of which are woven through the plot of Odin’s Promise. Those efforts were sustained throughout five long years of occupation and even beyond the end of the war. The German insistence that  they were in Norway as “friends” and had never been “at war” with Norway meant Norwegians endured the presence and influence of German troops long after their defeat by Allied forces.

Taking a stand against bullies is never easy, and not without danger. Whether at the level of a national invasion or a playground intimidator, courage and resilience are required. Superheroes are sadly fictional, but trustworthy people in our lives can and do exist. In the face of even the most violent situations, the support of trusted friends and loved ones makes it possible to endure and overcome.


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