On the way to the email box, many people encounter a page across which a
daily clutch of snares has been laid in the form of headlines offering
practical assistance or advice – Seven Love Tips for Aquarians, Health
Coverage for Your Dog, Celery Can Help You Relax… I normally cross this
minefield without detonating anything. But a week or so ago one of the
headlines caught my eye, then took possession of my mousefinger: Telling
Kids about War.
The gist of the piece was that children should be encouraged to “open up”,
as many of them are hesitant to ask questions about war even though they
inevitably have them. This seemed like sound advice, though I was expecting
the piece to go further with the potential questions, which along with the
accompanying parental reassurances, all treated the topic as just another
among many of the remote naggings at the back of a child’s (or adult’s)
mind. The topic might as well have been “Telling Kids about Mudslides”.
Nowhere was it suggested that children, let alone their parents, might have
any moral concerns about war. Nowhere was it suggested that there might be
anything wrong with war.
As a child, I often heard from my parents that the rightness of war was not
a given – that even war as a last resort could be a cause for shame, and
that war as a first resort often amounted to a fool’s way out of the frying
pan, or the diseased fruit of arrogance and greed. But if I want my
children to consider the values of their grandparents, I had better not rely
on much support from the present government or the media trough it tops up
every morning with slops. The answers (see A below) I tend to give my
children’s questions must compete with that other set of answers (see B)
regularly piped into their world like an advertising jingle set to martial
music, vying for space in the national McMind. “War,” this jingle assures
us, “is necessary, noble, and right. At least ours are.”
* Is it ok to lie? A) No. B) Yes, most times and particularly war times.
* Can I hit someone who hasn’t hit me first? A) No. B) Yes, so long as
you call it a pre-emptive strike.
* May I resolve my differences violently? A) No. B) Yes. Discussion is
a sign of appeasement. Finding a non-violent way through your differences
suggests you’re weak.
* Is it ok to ignore what friends and neighbors say and think, and just do
what I want? A) Not normally. B) Yes. Showing anything short of disdain
for those who disagree with you is another sign of weakness.
* Can I browbeat, threaten, or bribe my teachers to give me passing grades
or my friends to pitch in on my homework? A) No. B) Yes. If they
protest, assert their irrelevance.
* Can I plagiarize my reports? A) No. B) Yes, if you can’t come up with
anything fresh. If you get caught out, it won’t matter anyway.
* Is it ok to slander or dismiss other kids based on religious or ethnic
background? A) No. B) Yes, but mind the winds of political correctness.
Arabs and Muslims are in season. The French will serve in a pinch.
* Is it ok to break promises as fast as they’re made? A) No. B) Yes.
* Is it ok to insist the principal do something about the stink bombs in
another kid’s locker, if everyone knows there’s a case of stink bombs in my
own? A) It doesn’t sound quite kosher. B) Yes. Your stink bombs are
deterrents. His are a menace.
It should be remembered that Telling Kids about War is directed at those
parents on the side of the conflict that expects the other side to do 99% of
the dying. What do you tell your kids about war if you’re an Iraqi parent?
To “open up”? I have been trying to imagine how it would feel to tell my
daughter that her life might be pre-empted in order to support the leader or
liberate the nation, or whatever cause either side is using to justify what
Tony Blair has called “the blood price”. And I can’t.
A war with Iraq, say its proponents, is inevitable and necessary. Lately,
moral arguments have been getting more attention as politicians scramble to
claim the high ground. Bush and Blair, Chirac and Schroeder, Saddam and
Sharon… but there is no high ground, there are no saints playing this game.
We are more like toads jockeying for higher slime in a moral ditch. However
repulsive his warts, however noisome the layer of ooze he inhabits, Saddam
isn’t the lone occupant of that ditch. Call Gulf War II what you like, but
leave “right” off the list. “It is wrong and it will make things wronger,”
a friend recently wrote from England. It’s the most resonating remark that
I’ve heard to date – I hope it can satisfy the children, in case they have
John Liechty teaches in Muscat, Oman. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org