The Germans are the Baddies aren’t they?

I felt a bit winded – especially given that my son’s god-father is German – when my son saw a German flag outside an international hotel a few months back and pronounced it a “Baddy” flag. And of course, with poppies everywhere at the moment and our children somehow observing the silence in school, it’s bound to be discussed over the meal table this coming week. Who are the baddies? And why are the people who were baddies not baddies now? Combine that with, why are there still wars, and you’ve got your work cut out.

My son’s god-father, whose grand-dad fought against us in the war….he was a “baddy”. Uncle Martin, who is great fun to play footie with…. is related to a “baddy” I told my son.

War turns normal family-orientated, loving and caring people into killers.  Empathy is, according to a study out this week (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/07/18/are-you-raising-nice-kids-a-harvard-psychologist-gives-5-ways-to-raise-them-to-be-kind/  ) something we don’t teach our children enough. Certainly, we should prize it more and it’s the only way to really answer this week’s confused jumble of war questions.

Quite simply – put yourselves in the shoes of Uncle Martin’s Grandad. Do that and you realise that he knew he might have been imprisoned for NOT fighting.  Do that and you realise that, back then when Hitler’s media machine was in full swing and, at least superficially, the country was developing well, Uncle Martin’s grandad may have actually been pro-Hitler. Untitled design-6

How many times are we in favour of things but we don’t really understand them? How many times do we bow to peer pressure when we should simply do what we believe to be right? I think that’s the lesson I want to teach my son from war. We are responsible for our actions, but the State can wield an almost indomitable power over its citizens, and this must always be checked.

In a moving school assembly the other day to mark Black History Month, children – based on Martin Luther King’s speech  – said what their dreams were. One boy, with the kind of innocence that reduces adults to tears – said how his dream was for world peace and for “all the soldiers in the world to realise that it’s bad to fight”. But of course, soldiers are servants of the State.

So how can we achieve world peace, especially when many governments around the world are unjust? Maybe we can start by telling our children, and modelling for them, how important it is not to distance yourselves from someone just because they are different. Maybe we can encourage them to see who are the most vulnerable people in our community and consider how we can help them? And because wars often start out of injustice, maybe we can consider what we think is unfair in the world and challenge this? We could focus with our children on making trade fairer for impoverished farmers in developing countries. We could help them write to our MP to raise the issue of children working in unsafe conditions in factories supplying British clothing companies.

Of course, I’m not saying war starts because bananas aren’t all fair-trade. I’m not saying that there’s a war going on because of poor standards in factories in Cambodia. (And I’m mindful someone reading this in a country with unthinkable human rights abuse would count all this as staggeringly easily written…as if it would make any impact in their country).

What I’m saying is our children need to learn that they are not impotent to at least challenge systems which support the kind of injustice perpetrated or condoned by governments around the world.

All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men and women, and boys and girls, to do nothing. Doing nothing may put us closer to the “baddies” than we’d like to think.

What do you think? How do you tackle questions about war with your children? Please share your thoughts.

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3 thoughts on “The Germans are the Baddies aren’t they?

  1. stephen

    Sadly for Governments to make war with few questions, it has to be portrayed to the population in simple terms, ‘black and white’, ‘us and them’ and ‘good verses evil’.
    During the early days of WW1 Britain was to be seen largely sitting on the fence, indeed it was long thought that only after reports of innocent Belgium women being raped and killed by German troops, the fire was stoked in both Westminster and the press that drove the country to join in with the fight.
    Britain had in fact made a separate pact with Belgium many years before WW1 (The London Treaty of 1839) to protect them if they were invaded and declared war once the Germans had invaded in August 1914. But the Government could use such actions to allow Germany to be portrayed that they were in some way ‘evil’ and the tinderbox was lit, popular opinion firmly swayed behind war and the BEF was on its way and four years later some 800,000+ British men and women would be dead.
    It could be said that Britain was on its way to war regardless, but similar atrocities helped generate the ‘evil Bosche’ myth which continues to this day.
    The grandparents of my generation had fought for their nation and the realisation that a generation had been lost for our freedom was regularily fed to young people.
    Of course a supply of regular 50s and 60s war films on TV helped to stoke this mindset, but for me one film actually changed my mindset towards the ‘baddies’, the Germans, and watching it for the first time when I was 10 changed how I viewed the way we think about them and made me open to thinking about things from both sides. The film in question is, on a scale of one to ten, zero for historical accuracy. It’s a comedy made in the late 1960s and even features a ‘far out’ hippy tank driver, his hapless crew and an actor putting in a beguiling performance between two of his most famous films. The film in question is Kellys Heroes and the part that made me realise that we are all human at the end of the day is the ending.
    Our hapless American heroes are attempting to rob a bank full of gold behind enemy lines. Following their adventure to a small village they attempt to storm the village and swipe the gold before the American General gets there. The part that got me is that at the end they can’t open the banks doors and have to ask for a truce and the German tank commander to blast the doors with his Tiger tank.

    After a brief standoff he does it, and in five minutes of celluloid I saw for the first time in a war film that German soldiers were actually human just like us, that they have their own interests and families and, well, together we can do anything for a better life.
    From this I started to look into how it was like for German soldiers, even today I’m still learning and being humbled by their sacrafice. The more one reads about The Eastern Front the more one is simply astonished by the sacrifices both sides made, Stalingrad in particular.

    So how can we relate this to our children? How do we convey a ‘black and white’ war of WW2 to the grey blurred mess that is the Middle East today. Of course today, Governments have their agendas and it’s very difficult to see through their tactics and their intention, along with the agenda of the press.
    ‘Good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ might not even have weapons or even be directly fighting, yet the risk to our children is branding those suffering from the fallout of war as ‘the baddies’.
    Think of them as the Americans and us as the German tank driver, do we help to give them the life they want, or do we keep the spoils for ourselves and destroy them?

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  2. Jane

    When the title of this Blog pinged up on my phone, I felt compelled to immediately park the car and read it!
    Naomi, you certainly don’t shy away from issues, do you! A fascinating insight into a difficult question. We tend to use ‘the enemy’, not the ‘bady’ as both sides believes themselves to be doing ‘good’ not ‘bad’….but who knows? xx

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  3. kindvanniewind

    The first word that came to the forefront of my mind as I read the opening paragraph was “tolerance”. With the second being “context”. Then I realised a little further down that our great minds are thinking alike! 😉

    I was reading this on 5th November. Funnily, Classic FM was playing “The Spitfire Prelude” as I was making tea (which I managed to drink whilst still hot!) earlier that morning, in relation to Bonfire Night. I guess the Gunpowder Plot actually comes in the same league as both World Wars; not forgetting more recent terrorist attacks on British soil, as well as Intelligence to foil such terrorist plots.

    The rest of my pre school-run morning was taken up with both my boys frantically hunting for the “permanent” poppy decorations which I bought in Central London the previous day, for their blazers and book bags.

    My 8y old was tremendously upset early on in Year 3 when his teacher commented both at parents evening and in his school report that his story writing demonstrated a preoccupation with “army and warfare”. He tearfully retorted: “But if the British soldiers hadn’t sacrificed their lives in the World Wars, the British way of life and freedoms of the world would have been destroyed!” And in many ways he is right, of course. But, as you rightfully pointed out, the German nation was swept off balance by a fanatic man who induced fear and terror into their hearts and minds, whilst playing on their emotions: proclaiming that the German way of life as they knew it, was in peril of destruction and obliteration. And then there were the threats of consequences if they didn’t fulfil the obligation of “their duty” to their country.

    The horrors of 30 000 women and children killed in concentration camps in South Africa (not to mention the “scorched earth policy”) during the Anglo-Boer War the British fought 1899-1902 happened where I grew up in “The Free State” province. There are actually 2 graveyards in my hometown dating back to that time: of women and children who died in our town’s concentration camp, and of British soldiers who fought and died in the area. I suppose death is life’s biggest leveller. So, in a way these two graveyards 2miles apart are symbols of Reconciliation. However, there is also a prevailing sentiment in that neck of the woods that The British invented Concentration Camps and The Germans perfected them. Utter hate for everything remotely British was rife well into the 80’s when my mum was a Geriatric Nurse and many of her patients were survivors of those Concentration Camps, recounting the traumas of their childhood.
    British soldiers fought for Queen & Country and the expansion of the British Empire on the back of the discovery of gold in Johannesburg and diamonds in Kimberley. “The Boers” fought to retain their sovereignty and freedom: my province had been called “The Free State” long before this war.

    To me the root cause of war always involve one of the following factors or a combination thereof: Money; Power; Religion; Fanaticism.

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