Children play with an electronically-driven Gatling gun aboard USS Makin Island Oct. 9, 2010. This image or file is in the public domain. Author: Marines from Arlington, VA, United States.

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.


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2 Responses to CHILD’S PLAY?

  1. LB says:

    I think it always goes back to our connectedness ~ to life itself, one another and to whatever transcendent force it is we believe brought us into being (animated us). Early philosophers and alchemists (among others) considered the world itself to be a living spiritual entity endowed with a soul, something they called the “Anima Mundi”, meaning the “Soul of the World”, or world’s soul:

    If it’s true and the world is alive and has a soul, and I believe it is, then maybe our relationship to war and other forms of collective violence is more complicated, deeply ingrained and difficult to resist.

    Most children come into this world sensitive to unseen, unspoken forces. Using your story about you and your brother as an example, Kathie, maybe the childish impulse to act out both sides of war (the compassion, courage and violence), while also questioning its validity, speaks to how sensitive you and your brother were to this world soul, a soul shaped by both light and dark unconscious collective forces just as individual souls are.

    There’s been much written on anima mundi. I’m probably not the best person to do justice to the subject. My basic understanding is that the potential exists for both higher and lower unconscious undercurrents of our collective psyches to build and come together in shaping the direction of our world. The challenge then becomes how to *consciously* acknowledge and transform our own *individual* unconscious drives without being swept along by destructive collective forces and projecting them ‘out there’, a mindset generally reinforced by our system.

    We can create a world of endless war and other manifestations of violence and oppression, or something more connecting, sacred and life-affirming.

    Author Paul Levy (“The Madness of George Bush: A Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis” and “Wetiko: The Greatest Epidemic Sickness Known to Humanity”) had this to say in his online article “Archetypal Dimensions of World Events”:

    “The seeds of world events lie in the unconscious, waiting to sprout under the proper conditions and at the right moment. Jung elaborated by saying, “…what the unconscious really contains are the great collective events of the time. In the collective unconscious of the individual, history prepares itself; and when the archetypes are activated in a number of individuals and come to the surface, we are in the midst of history, as we are at present. The archetypal image which the moment requires gets into life, and everybody is seized by it. That is what we see today.” Any given moment of time requires and is simultaneously expressing the deeper, mythic archetypal process which in-forms it. When we get into proximity to the archetype, we become collectively drafted into its overpowering field of force. We then become a tool in the archetype’s hand, enabling it to give shape to itself in our world. By being seized and thereby compelled to act out this more powerful archetypal force unconsciously as collective events, we become the instrument through which this suprapersonal force is making itself known to us.”

    If we’re all interdependent on one another for and through life, then even without TV or news, talk of war, it’s still possible for us to be influenced by the shared soul that connect us. Back in the early 70’s I watched a documentary about a “hippie” family (or families, I don’t remember), attempting to raise their children without exposure to prevailing cultural themes and conditioning. Even without exposure to war or manufactured toy guns, the little boys created their own make-believe weapons and played war ~ which isn’t to say cultural conditioning doesn’t play a critical role as well.

  2. Barbara says:

    Nor does this country’s pursuit of wars seem like child’s play to me, Dr. Malley-Morrison. It seems more like a game called Murder, which is rarely called by its true name. ‘Taint funny, McGee,” as was pointed out in the old radio show “Fibber McGee and Molly. There are other cases in which fooling around with words can be fatally dangerous, as in the case of Michelle Carter, the young woman in the news recently who encouraged her boyfriend to kill himself. Did she think she was being funny? Did she think it was a game? How did she feel after the boyfriend did what she egged him on to do? For shame on those who “play games” with human lives

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