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.
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.