Berenice Sterling was a first-grade teacher in Bath, Mich., in 1927 when she asked school board treasurer Andrew Kehoe for a favor. Sterling wanted to have some fun with her students on the final day of school, so she wondered if the class could picnic in a shady grove of trees on Kehoe’s farm that Wednesday, May 18.
Kehoe agreed, but he urged Sterling’s class not to wait till that date. Instead, he said, they should have their picnic “right away.”
Asked after May 18 why he thought Kehoe had made that suggestion, Bath resident Monty Ellsworth gave a stark reply:
“I suppose he wanted the children to have a little fun before he killed them.”
The full story of Kehoe — who went from first trying to control a school’s budget to finally just blowing the whole building up, killing 44 people in a fit of rage — is revealed in “Maniac: The Bath School Disaster and the Birth of the Modern Mass Killer” (Little A), out now.
Government officials hate civil disobedience because it’s a disgruntled citizen’s way of thumbing his nose. If we’re unhappy with laws or policies that are stupid, destructive, corrupt, counterproductive, unconstitutional, or in other ways indefensible, they advise us to do the “democratic” thing—which means hope for the best in a future election, stand in line to be condescended to at some boring public hearing, or just shut up.
My go-to expert on the issue is not a politician or a preacher or an academic. It’s Henry David Thoreau, who famously asked, “Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward.”
If the choice is obedience or conscience, I try my best to pick conscience.