Tim Howard to Belgium: In your face, Flanders!

That would have been the perfect headline for the New York Post, or some similar tabloid, if only goalie Tim Howard had managed one more save as he heroically withstood the siege, before the absolutely brilliant goal by Opie Taylor, err, Kevin De Bruyne, broke a scoreless tie in the 93rd minute of America’s loss to Belgium in the World Cup.

Most Americans likely recognize the “In your face, Flanders!” as something Homer Simpson spouted when celebrating some temporary advantage over his next door neighbor. Many will not recognize the double entendre, since the average American’s knowledge of geography and history is so poor they do not know Flanders is in Belgium.

Or that Brussels is the capital of Flanders, as well as the national capital.

Or that August 4 will mark the 100th anniversary since the German Empire invaded Flanders, their next door neighbor, on the way to attacking France. Or the fact that this region slightly smaller than Connecticut was the site of the first shots fired on the Western Front, as well as some of the last, with the most obscene warfare ever known taking place in between.

Banners seen at the beginning of FIFA World Cup matches say “Handshake for Peace.” That might appear as a sanctimonious gesture, as if the handshakes of these privileged, cocky young men could help the cause of world peace as they appear on television, having trained for months with the full advantages afforded by their governments, to reach peak physical condition, and then bask under the laurels of their well-rewarded victories. But it is a good thing to remember how governments usually spend their money to train up their young men before sending them off to face those from other nations.

Kevin-De-Bruyne-beat Tim HowardAccording to the Telegraph, the average age of the Belgium squad is 25.2, a couple of years older than the age of the typical infantry private who died in combat in Belgium during the Great War, which was so horrific it was expected to end all wars.

Unfortunately, it took another 22 years and another fast break by the Germans through the Belgian defenses, on their way to scoring a major victory against France at the start of another war, to show us just how barbaric we humans are capable of being to our own species and why that is a lesson we should never need repeated.

            Kevin “Weasley” De Bruyne      (photo: Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

Fortunately, the end result of the Second World War changed the face of nationalism (at least in Europe) to the point that, when we see the young Frenchmen and Germans facing each other Friday afternoon, we can no longer imagine them bashing each others’ brains out with rifle butts, or battle axes, or sticks and stones, as they have through almost every generation since before Caesar was a boy.

Civilization has always depended upon humans learning to channel their most primitive impulses into more acceptable and hopefully peaceful and productive avenues of expression and release. Competitive athletics can help achieve that in some very real ways.

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