Originally published by The NY Yorker
Did I wake up this morning thinking that I was going to separate legions of children from their parents? No. But when the townspeople of Hamelin broke the law (by refusing to pay me for my rat-catching), that same law stipulated that I take their children away. So, you see, it’s not me, it’s medieval penal code.
If I didn’t steal children with my magical music, then the residents of Hamelin would continue to break the law. What precedent does that set? Clearly, child theft is a much-needed deterrent. Everyone knows that the only way to enforce a law, and to encourage others to abide by it in the future, is to commit epoch-defining acts of cruelty, like I did when I pranced through town playing my pipe and snatched your children from you.
It’s not like I can change the law.
Look, I’m not happy about having to do this. Try, for a second, to ignore that I was dancing while I coaxed all the children away from their parents. That wasn’t performative cruelty, it was more like law enforcement, performed.
And did you hear the song I played? It was a sad song, because doing this makes me sad. But I have to. It’s not like I just all of a sudden decided to separate the children of Hamelin from the parents of Hamelin as part of a vindictive scheme to use children as political pawns. That would be disgusting!
It’s not even me doing the separating. It’s the pipe. Yes, I played the pipe in my pied clothing and all the children followed me to . . . uh, can’t tell you where, but it’s outside Hamelin town limits. But did I make the pipe? No. Did I piedify my clothes? No. I’m simply doing what a Pied Piper does: plays his pipe in pied clothing. If Hamelinites want someone to blame, they should blame the artisans who made these things in the first place.
In fact, I did hear that the pipe-maker and tailor denounced my practice of using pipesong to lure all of your children out of your homes. But surely they could have predicted that one day a Pied Piper would utilize the loophole you yourselves created that legally allows me to rob your town of its most vulnerable citizens!
Trust me, people of Hamelin, history will look kindly upon me. One day, they’ll speak of the Pied Piper as a hero, and definitely not as a ghoulish figure in a nightmarish fable. I’m one thousand per cent sure of it. Maybe my story will even help guide future generations weighing the merits of a child-separation policy. And as time goes on, people who engage in similar acts will be celebrated as brave upholders of the law, not despicable villains deserving of punishment from some sort of international criminal tribunal.
We live in a refined, sophisticated time, and as citizens of this highly advanced society, I think we can all agree that separating children from their families is positively medieval. So what’s the big deal?