“Hickory Dickory Dock, my Daddy, is Nuts from Shell Shock;
Humpty Dumpty thought he was wise till gas came along and burned out his eyes…
…Now I lay me down to sleep my Bomb-Proof Cellar is Good and Deep;
but if I’m killed before I wake; remember god it’s for your sake.”
Johnny Got His Gun, Dalton Trumbo 1938
Author’s note: If you are one who believes we do not have a responsibility to the children of our enemies, asylum seekers, illegal immigrants or those outside our borders… Please read no further.
Dalton Trumbo’s “new nursery rhyme for a new time” came from what he saw as the effect of World War One on children and the adults they grew into. I’m not sure I disagree with him.
In my effort to get a little balance on what is reported I read several foreign news services and if it is a language I can read without a translator I like to occasionally read some of the local editorials; the human interest stuff. At the beginning of the last school semester, I read an article telling of an excited class of first-year students who were decorating their bomb shelter… Their Bomb Shelter!
Do you have children? … I don’t, but I do know the feeling of incoming artillery –random in its distribution of death. Do yourself a favor and think on that a moment. The thought of a child experiencing this kind of fear is devastating to me.
The photos in the article showed finger paint and cut out paper mobiles transforming an austere reinforced concrete hole in the ground into an austere reinforced concrete hole in the ground decorated with finger paint and cut out paper mobiles. Five and six-year-olds who are accustomed to the sound of incoming rockets and gunfire.
The thought still haunts me.
In German I would say; “Ich kann es einfach nicht verkraften” – “I just can’t power through this.”
As adults, I think we either don’t realize or maybe some of us don’t care what the consequences of our decisions, selfish politics and policies are for the innocent of the world. Every civilized military has some regulation regarding not involving children or innocent civilians. Yet, children and civilians still experience the brunt of our foolishness.
It makes me proud to know that American Soldiers have a long history of kindness to children and civilians. I had an old friend who was pressed into service with the Wehrmacht at age twelve then captured by Americans at fourteen. He was more pro-American than most Americans.
Kurt never forgot how he was treated or how Patton’s troopers treated his family when the tanks came through his village. The kindness shown him by enemy soldiers (Americans) when he was a child molded the rest of his existence. – What we are doing as a nation will alter and mold the lives of the children we are using as pawns.
The article I referenced above was from Tel Aviv, but it could just as well have been from Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, Iraq or so many other places. It just hasn’t happened here yet, or at least not in our lifetimes, so we don’t think about it.
I am a bit of a hermit, and my wife makes me leave the property to go bowling once a week. She says making me associate with humanity once a week is her only guarantee that I will bathe, put on clothes and other stuff like that.
Recently I heard a person, who I actually once respected, talking about an ISIS massacre of civilians. He ended his rant with: “I hope all them little (expletive deleted) Rag Headed Mooslim babies get (expletive deleted) smoked, then we can go in and clean up the daddies with a nuke, and the Mid-East crisis is over.”
I was stupefied to see the majority of the other “adults” there agree and expound on their desire to see those (expletive deleted) Mooslim babies fry. I’ll note that the very same people regularly torture me with pictures and tales of their own grandchildren’s exploits.
I obviously had ample justification to take up the standard of “GOOD,” then invoke righteous indignation to put each of these unfeeling heretics in their place. This was, in fact, my intention for the following Monday; to prepare my thoughts, select a few pictures of children at war from my library and point out that it could just as well be their dead grandchildren in those pictures as those Rag Headed Mooslim babies.
I tend to be an ass like that. Anger me, and I’ll wait, I’ll prepare, and I’ll return to shred any unwitting opponent with facts, quotes and examples to shame them then walk away letting them think I did it off the top of my head.
At some point, I realized that if endangering a child or even just discounting the value of a child because they are not one of ours is my complaint… then I am no better than they are.
They just talked about children like they had no value. To my shame, I have done much worse.
In the mid-80s an underground anti-communist newspaper popped up in a housing district on the outskirts of Moscow. It included transcripts of the weekly Radio Free Europe and Voice of America broadcasts. It was to our advantage to have as many of these anti-communist voices making noise as possible so we tended to lend a hand anytime we could.
The folks in Bad Godesberg sent me in to assess the situation and, if it looked solid, offer to provide support. It turned out I knew the printer from previous missions in the USSR. We established contact, and he accepted our offer of assistance.
He set me up with a safe liaison contact. It was his 12-year-old son Sasha. I knew Sasha well and knew the boy to be solid as a rock. The thing struck me about the boy when I met him three years earlier were his eyes; they were the eyes of a much older, much sadder man.
The next several months were spent transporting various items of support to the printer, and it quickly became clear that the only one from the Moscow side who could move freely without risk of being followed was the child. Before long and to my additional shame I was treating Sasha just like any other asset. If it came down to choosing between the boy and the mission, Sasha was expendable just like any other asset.
I put the boy’s life in danger every time we operated in association with him. No, I never hurt a child but I didn’t do much to protect him either. I put my mission above my humanity. It was a conscious decision; I believe I had no choice.
Still… I am relatively sure that one day I will be required to answer for it – and I have no answer.
Urban battle can create a similar issue. Unless you have experienced it, you never quite understand how quickly the situation can decay into insanity. Possibly due to the sheer number of players or the chaos and cacophony of battle there can be a swift degradation to the point where everyone has reverted to the “Spray and Pray” method of target acquisition.
Somehow innocent civilians and children are always involved with the urban battlefield. Inevitably there are civilian/innocent casualties and inevitably some soldier, often little more than a boy himself, can’t establish where his rounds were impacting and thinks he might have killed an innocent or a child.
Internally he takes responsibility and blames himself for some or all of the civilian casualties. I assure you his innocence is lost and he will re-live the incident for the rest of his days, and he may well shorten those days by choice.
We are lucky, no American soldier serving in combat, over the last 140 years, has needed to worry about the welfare of his family; he could focus on the battle knowing they were safe at home beyond the reach of any enemy.
The Syrian rebel, the Jordanian pilot, the Afghan police chief, the Israeli paratrooper and the Kurdish fighter facing ISIS all share the knowledge that their families are as vulnerable as they are.
Our enemies, at least the civilized ones, live with the same fear for the welfare of their families as we do. They worry about their children the same as we do. So, if you lack the humanity to care at a personal level, then consider that this can be used to our advantage just like any weapon. As long as we never let the line between them and us blur, we can exploit this fear by simply exhibiting common humanity.
The unpleasant reality is that: It is the children who feel the first hunger pangs of a city under siege; it is the children who fall prey to the disease and pestilence that comes with the disruption society and becoming a refugee; it is the children who are pressed into service with the gangs or when the battle goes against any tyrant; it is the children who are used as human shields, and it is the children who grow up with enough hate to be fallow ground for extremism and perpetuate the conflict.
This cycle needs to stop.
Back when I was but a wee trainee, I was told that “We never kill the innocent, we protect the innocent… it is what separates us from them.”
What better way to make an enemy a friend or solidify an alliance than to protect their children?
What better reason is there for a child to grow up as an ally than the knowledge you protected his mother?
Our Humanity is what separates US from THEM… We must never lose it… or we become them.
I think the esteemed Lady from Milwaukee got it right when she said:
“We will only have peace… … when they love their children more than they hate us.” Golda Mier – 1957