Matt leans forward in his seat, his elbow on his desk, and his head propped up against his palm. He listens to Mr. Dalton drone on about the Allies and the Axis, the good and the bad, how “we” saved the world, how “we” would be speaking German right now if not for the brave men who fought in World War II. Matt blinks. He blinks again, this time holding his eyes shut for just a second. He opens to Mr. Dalton waving and flexing to make a point. The girls in the front row are impressed. Matt blinks, holding his eyes shut for ten seconds. He opens to more of Mr. Dalton’s theatrics. He closes his eyes again. Everything melts away.
“Bam!” Matt’s textbook is dropped on his desk.
Matt pops up from his slumber, his eyes blurry. He looks up to see the bearded warrior, Mr. Dalton, standing in front of him. His face is visibly red through his facial hair. His eyes are narrowed, and his arms are crossed, further accentuating his ripped biceps.
“Is my class boring you?” Mr. Dalton says.
Matt rubs his eyes. “I’m sorry. It’s just that—”
“It’s just what?”
“Nothing. I’m sorry.”
“Spit it out, Mr. Moyer.”
“It’s really not you. I just don’t find state-sanctioned propaganda very interesting, apart from why everybody actually believes it.”
The teacher’s face reddens further. He shakes his head with a smirk on his face. “I’m talking about the single most important war in history, where we saved the world from disaster. That’s propaganda? You wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for our brave military who fought and died, so little punks like you can sit here and spout off about things you know nothing about.”
“Yes, that’s propaganda,” Matt says. “The winners get to write the history books and force their citizens to learn this crap.”
“Are you some kinda Nazi-sympathizer?” Mr. Dalton chuckles and walks back to the front of the class. “We did have Americans who left the United States to fight for Germany. Can you imagine that, class? Someone leaving the land of the free and the home of the brave to fight for the Nazis? The same Nazis who killed millions of Jews.”
“I do sympathize with the German people of that time,” Matt says. “They were propagandized and brainwashed, like we are. If we suffered through the same reparations they did, and then had a charismatic leader like Hitler rise to power, we’d probably commit similar atrocities.”
Mr. Dalton stares at Matt, then smiles at the class, stroking his beard. “So whaddaya think, class? Do you think, under the right circumstances, we could kill millions in concentration camps?”
A brown-haired girl in braces raises her hand from the front row. “That’s why we learn history, so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past,” she says.
“That’s a great point, Ashley,” Mr. Dalton says. “Anyone else?”
A ruddy-complexioned blonde raises her hand. Mr. Dalton points at her.
“This country was founded on freedom,” the blonde says. “People came here to get away from the bad places, because we have so much freedom. I don’t think we could ever be like that.”
“Stanley Milgram might disagree with you,” Matt says. “He proved that most Americans will kill someone, simply because someone in authority tells them to do so.”
“You need to raise your hand, Mr. Moyer,” Dalton says. “My grandfather was an engineer in World War II. He repaired bridges so our infantry could free Europe. He was there. He saw the concentration camps. He saw the malnourished children. He lived the real history. Matt doesn’t know the intimate details of the war that my grandfather told me, when I was just a kid.”
A thin boy appears at the classroom door’s window.
Mr. Dalton makes eye contact and waves him in. “There’s a real human side to the story. It’s not simply facts and figures from a book. I’m not saying our government’s perfect, but we have done some spectacular things throughout history.”
The boy hands Mr. Dalton a note.
“It must be my lucky day. Mr. Moyer, you’re being called to the main office. Take your stuff with you.”
Matt’s stomach churns. His eyes open wide; his mouth turns down. He thought he was in the clear after his first couple classes came and went without incident.
Mr. Dalton grins. “Don’t worry. We don’t have gas chambers here.”
Title: Against the Grain
Author: Phil Williams
Genre: Contemporary / Coming of Age / Political
A tyrannical high school principal.
A young anarchist with nothing left to lose.
One way or another, this place is goin’ down.
Matt Moyer is an orphaned teen growing up on a primitive farm in the Pennsylvania coal region. He’s homeschooled by his eccentric and philosophical great-uncle, who’s a stickler for logic, reason, and intellectual honesty. Despite his uncle’s reverence for veracity, inconsistencies arise regarding the old man’s shady past and the teen’s parents.
Through a harrowing sequence of events, Matt is forced to attend a public school. The feral teen finds it difficult to cope with the hypocrisy, propaganda, and misinformation that adults and children so readily accept. Faced with the possibility of expulsion, arrest, and ostracism, he must make a choice. Will he choose the easy lie or the hard truth?
Adult language and content.
Phil M. Williams is an author, activist, blogger, and consultant. He lives in Central Pennsylvania with his wife, Denise, where he writes and tends his permaculture farm. He is the author of Fire the Landscaper, Against the Grain, Stone Lake, and co-author of Farmer Phil’s Permaculture. His new releases can be read for free at PhilWBooks.com.