Haven’t we all asked ourselves this before? Haven’t we all had that one argument that deep down we really just want to settle Old Testament style? Of course we have. Even in today’s world of lawsuits and high-priced attorneys, there are just some arguments, some grievances, for which we really just want to seek good old fashion, medieval Satisfaction.
Truth be told, dueling has been in our blood since before recorded history, and it comes in many forms. Traditional dueling as we understand it actually evolved from a Viking ritual called Holmganga,’ which mean To go out to the Island.’ The Viking method of dueling consisted of two men with either swords or axes, and each with three shields. Because the Vikings were such strong warriors, shields didn’t tend to last very long under the force of their blows, and it is conceivable that one could very well go through three shields in one duel. Holmganga duels, like their future counterparts, were fought either until first blood or until only one man was left standing.
From the 14th through the 20th centuries, dueling was a common practice in most countries even though it was still illegal. Legality aside, duelists, at least the winners, were rarely ever arrested and even more rarely prosecuted. Traditionally, duels were fought with either swords or pistols, the choosing of which was left to the challenged. However, weapons were not confined to these. Anything could be named, which left some wiggle room for some of history’s bigger comedians. Rudolf Virchow, after being challenged by Otto von Bismarck, supposedly chose as the weapons two sausages. This was a great way to get out of a duel without actually loosing face because, needless to say, no self respecting gentlemen would be seen fighting someone with a kielbasa. Some duelists would even pick howitzers or cannons as the weapon, which was equally effective.
Even today, dueling is in our language. The modern slang “throwing down,” meaning to fight, comes from the manner of challenging an opponent by throwing down a glove at his feet. In the United States, there are still even dueling laws on the books, some of which even establish proceedings for legal dueling. Of course, there are also laws prohibiting cursing in public, blasphemy, and the wearing of deep pockets, none of which, obviously, hold any weight in a modern court of law.
But here’s the rub. Dueling is actually still legal in certain parts of the world. In Paraguay, for instance, dueling is completely legal as long as both participants are organ donors. Makes you think about that extra $1 off at the DMV, doesn’t it? And I think they’re on to something there. With the number of deaths that occur because organs aren’t available to transplant patients and the number of murders from crimes of passion and so on, it seems that legalizing dueling under that stipulation would bring one of those two numbers down.
So should we legalize dueling? One part of me thinks it would be interesting. Yes, bring back dueling. And flogging, bring that back as well. It would be nice to be able to say that, I think. On the other hand, part of me knows that there was a reason dueling was banned in the first place, and it wasn’t an aversion to murder. We’re pretty okay with that when it suits our needs. The truth is dueling would cause more problems than it solved, no matter how many laws were put in place for its regulation. If dueling was legalized today, how many of our government officials would find themselves under the sword as early as tomorrow? The country would collapse if half the people who run it suddenly and quite literally got the ax. And how many do you think would find some way to profit from legalized dueling? It wouldn’t be hard.
So whereas I would love to say yes,’ in all honesty it wouldn’t be any better or fairer than any other system. We would just be trading who has the better lawyer to who’s better with a sword (or a sausage, depending.) It wouldn’t be any better than leaving it to the lawyers. Now the real question is, what if we gave the lawyers swords?’