by Kathie MM
While my younger siblings and I were growing up, my mom wrote regular letters to her mom down in Florida about our adventures, mishaps, squabbles, reconciliations, etc.
The letter below, written by my mom on February 6, 1948, just a few years after WWII ended, strikes me as an odd harbinger of my later life as a peace activist. I am hoping for your comments.
At the time Mom wrote this letter, I was 7 and my brother Teddy was 5.
“At bath time tonight, as I collected clean clothes for the next day, I could hear Kathie and her brother playing a new game. Teddy, at one end of the tub, was America; Kathie was England at the other. A large pan was a boat that sailed back and forth carrying toys from America to the poor children in England.
Before Teddy went to bed, Kathie wanted to train him to be a soldier.
“Do all boys go to war?” she asked me.
“Most of them, if there is a war, and if there’s nothing wrong with them.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if their eyes are all right and that sort of thing.”
“Gee, Teddy, “, Kathie said, “You’re lucky! You’ll be able to go to war. You’re not blind and you haven’t got a broken leg or anything.”
“I don’t want to go to war,” Teddy said. “With all those guns I might get killed.”
“Oh Teddy! You don’t understand,” Kathie replied. Then she said uncertainly to me, “Right, Mummy?”
Not understanding wars myself, my sympathies were with her brother.
We decided to make a sailor out of Teddy, so Kathie could train him whether there was a war or not.”
This interchange took place before television and computers, before the universalizing of violent images and ads for glorified weapons; yet there was “war,” apparently part of our everyday vocabulary, with all the deadly questions it raised.
Yet alongside the banality of war in our childish conversations, we played out our awareness of the “care packages” our parents sent to refugees in post-war Europe—including to Germany, which led, quite astonishingly, 20 years later, to a young German man coming to our home to thank us personally for the package we had sent to his family so long ago.
Somehow, out of this mix. my siblings and I all became anti-war advocates, but still, I fear for the future.
What did it do to our society to rear kids to take war for granted? What does it do to today’s children to have images of weapons flooding their TVs and computers? What does it do for humanity when refugees are portrayed as enemies? What does it do for survival when the poor and people of color become the new cannon fodder, and when the fruits of the earth become sacrificed to the greed of the most unscrupulous of the rich and powerful?
None of it seems like child’s play to me.