My oldest son (5) has been into a series of books called the Magic Tree House. A brother and sister find a tree house that can transport them through time and around the world. In ten chapters and about 80 pages we’ve visited Pompeii, the Titanic, the age of dinosaurs, the ice age, Ancient China, and about fifteen other destinations. They usually involve a riddle or simple mystery and have served as a good learning tool.
When the latest group of books came into the library, my wife and I noticed that two of the books were about war – the Civil War and the Revolutionary War. My children are probably a bit sheltered. We do not let them watch much television, and even then, it is stuff that both the five and three year old can watch together. We do not own a toy gun, nor do we let them play with them at other kid’s houses. We know that will change eventually, but we are not looking forward to that day.
Last night I tried to explain the concept of war to him.
“Sometimes groups of people fight one another”
“For lots of reasons. For this war, there were two groups fighting. The Northerners were trying to stop the Southerners from hurting another group of people.”
“Well, why didn’t they just ask them to stop?”
“They did, but they didn’t listen. So they started to fight about it. Now we try to avoid fighting, right?”
“But does it make sense that somebody is doing something wrong you might have to fight them to get them to stop?”
“Yes.” (still a little puzzled)
So I start reading the book. The tree house takes them back in a Civil War battlefield where injured soldiers are walking towards some destination.
“Why are they hurt?”
“Well, people can get hurt when fighting a war.”
“Do people die?”
“Yes, sometimes people die.”
Tears start to well up, “Why do people fight then?”
“They fight to stop other people from doing bad things. Or they fight because they are making bad choices. Or they fight because they just can’t agree.”
Tears turn into sobs. “I don’t like this, I don’t want to read this.”
After he calmed down, I read him a nice book about jungle animals.
He was probably too young, for this book and conversation. As are the children who actually have to witness war firsthand.
Last February, I wrote about a former student who visited me after his second tour in Iraq. Today, I got another visit from him. As soon as I saw him walk in I knew something wasn’t right. He was shipped out for his third tour in March. He still had several months before his tour was up. Then he limped through the door. I left the front of class – the students were involved in a self directed activity for the time – and went back to talk to him. His leg had almost been “blown off.” Had it not been for the swift reactions of his friends, he would have died. He spent two weeks in a medically induced coma and was able to wake to the face of his wife.
I didn’t feel comfortable asking him too much about his injury, but he pulled up his pant leg and showed a nasty wound, now filled with scar tissue and skin grafts from his upper thigh.
He stayed only a few minutes. I shook his hand. As he left, I thought, at least HE does not have to go back.
While I am a pacifist at heart, I do recognize that war is part of humanity. One thing I always tell my students is that people, human beings as a whole, have issues. Humanity has always needed a good therapist – self help books just don’t work. Religion doesn’t seem to be the answer for world peace either.
Some times wars have to be fought. Sometimes they are fought over pettiness and greed. In middle of any war are the innocent, the children who just don’t understand why people would kill each on purpose. In the middle of any war are the young men (and women today) who follow orders, fight, and die for what they, or what their leaders, believe is right. When is a sacrifice for the common good, just a waste and when it is it justified.
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6 thoughts on “What is it good for?”
Nice post, thanks.
Sorry to hear about the cost of war for your former student. My sons loved the Magic Tree House books……
Do you know that when I get on your site, I get pop up ads, including one for the US ARMY ?
Have a good day.
Nice well-rounded post. I lost one of my former students to the war this week. War and what it’s good for has been on my mind, too.
I like that your children don’t understand war and are upset by it. It shouldn’t be taken lightly, and their fresh young perspective really snaps me back to reality.
Two of my former students came to vist the other day. Both had recently graduated from Marine boot camp and were in their uniforms, standing tall, utterly transformed from the children who graduated only the year before. They had taken their place and would soon be part of American history.
When they left, I told the class that they and those like them were the reason that they could worry about little else than the color of their next cell phone and which model of i-Pod to buy next.
I wish that their sacrifice was not necessary. But as a veteran I understand all too well that we not only are the better for the shared military experience of our veterans and active duty military, but we exist as a free nation and the light of the world because of them.
With your permission, I’d like to share your blog with my 8th grade US History class. My co-worker and I have had a difficult time getting them to display any kind of empathy as we study the American Revolution. They are safe and secure in their homes and lifestyles and seem to have trouble identifying with the reality and tangible costs of war. The perspectives you connected in this entry might ring closer to a few of my students. Please let me know if my use of your blog entry is something with which you would agree.
Excellent point. Having gone through the entire cycle with my own son, I realise that it is important children realise the importance of “context” and “history”. Since I live in India, we always live with Pakistan as the “bad guys”, the “enemy”, and it has taken long and “historical” discussions to explain to my-then 10-year-old that there are always shades of grey, about how the Partition of the two countries colours so much of the muscle-wielding today.
Americans have a lot to learn from history. About time the country stopped being John Wayne.