How the giant stubbed his toe

  • 2001-03-29
  • Eric Jansson
Giants are a tender species. We know this from fairy tales.

The littler townsfolk fear them, thinking them destructive beasts. Yet giants often have fair and childlike hearts, and they would not destroy but for the twin curses of clumsiness and size. They are always stubbing their toes on boulders, pricking the soles of their feet on chimneytops, smashing houses underfoot, and when the pain comes they cry like unconsolable babies, sending mournful cries all through the hills on the terrible winds of their breath.

The fairytales are accurate. I know, because I happen to know a giant.

He is an unusually large one. Like the rest, he stows a proud stash of gold and weapons in his giant-cave. He has a rather fair heart and, when grumpy, keeps his grumpiness mostly to himself. He is even popular with a lot of the townsfolk because he is famous for defending them when nasty giants come plundering. His name is NATO.

Once upon a time, my friend the giant had to fight a big battle.

Everybody knew there was an especially dangerous giant who lived over the mountain, in the nearest valley. They knew because they could hear him laughing whenever they tried to go to sleep.

The dangerous giant was always laughing because he was playing games. He didn't like to stay in his cave, and he had moved into the town. When he found all the townsfolk, they reminded him of his chess pieces. So he used them just so, ordering the townsfolk to stay in their chess-squares or his game wouldn't work. He even made little crowns out of oak branches to rest atop the heads of "kings" and "queens". His laughter echoed everywhere, and he never understood why so many townsfolk didn't enjoy his games.

Well, I could tell you a very long story about the dangerous, chess-loving giant. But the important thing is that my friend, the giant on our side, helped scare him out of the nearest valley. We saw the dangerous giant's head disappear like a bald sun setting over the horizon.

Now, plenty of townsfolk want our giant to move to town. They say that if NATO doesn't come, the dangerous giant will come back and make living chess pieces of them. Others say that our giant will make a mess, like all giants do, and smash the town by mistake - or even that by coming he will lure the dangerous giant into a fight. Maybe.

But for now I'm just warning everybody of a terrible wind and a mournful cry, because our giant just stubbed his toe.

He stubbed it way down south, while lumbering around the valleys of Yugoslavia. He stubbed it because although he is good at fighting dangerous giants he doesn't have the first idea how to fight dangerous townsfolk. They are just too small. They slip through his grasp like wind throught the branches of a tree. He stubbed it on Macedonia.

It all started because of a small giant in Yugoslavia. He was small but very dangerous. He played chess with people, too. And sometimes when he picked them up or set them down he squeezed them so tightly in his big hands that they popped. But his favorite game was hide-and-seek, which he played like this: first, he would hide for a while in Serbia, and then he would suddenly come out and scare all the townsfolk, who would run to seek refuge in neighbouring lands. He played hide-and-seek so often and so enthusiastically that our giant finally decided to fight him.

To fight him, our giant had to make a big decision. Always before, he had promised only to fight other giants that attacked him. But he changed his mind in Yugoslavia. He went lumbering down into those hills in the name of peace and democracy. The townsfolk were pretty nervous.

To begin with, our giant is no pacifist and a clumsy democrat. But above all, when a big giant fights a smaller one, he can lose because the small one is less clumsy and better at hiding. Sometimes, they will fight to a draw, and that is sort of what happened in Yugoslavia. Our giant won a piece of land called Kosovo, but the smaller giant kept almost all of his land until last year, when the Serbian townsfolk revolted and he lost power. They were weary of his dangerous games.

Ever since, our giant has been sitting there, in Kosovo, even after the enemy lost power. NATO is a stranger in those hills and hasn't entirely figured out what to do with himself. Everyone around says that he is their friend, but they have dubious motives, and in the meantime they have taken to fighting again, in the name of peace and democracy. Our giant - like other giants, big on brawn but small on brain - thinks he already fought for peace and democracy. Actually, what he did was scare the enemy giant while taking some of his land.

And now some of the townsfolk, so accustomed to playing hide-and-seek, have started to play it with NATO. Our giant is too big to hide and way too clumsy to seek and waaaay too late to escape. Down there, on the Kosovo-Macedonian border, weapons smugglers and radical Albanian separatists slip right through his fingers, and peace and democracy might, too.

Keep your eyes on the new Balkan conflict. If our giant keeps stumbling, his cry will echo through central and eastern Europe. His credibility will be blown. He might even lumber back to his cave, whining. The Baltics next best friend will be no giant, but Europe's infant defense identity.