Sunday, November 19, 2006


Here's something that breaks my heart.

We were at Barnes & Noble Bookseller yesterday afternoon, browsing for Christmas gift inspiration, when we decided to stop in their second floor cafe for a gingerbread latte. As we waited for the barista to whip up our seasonal specialty beverages, we pulled up chairs at a nearby table. At the table behind us, three young boys were talking to each other while one of their mothers read quietly beside them.

"Yeah, I know. We're ALL going to go to war."

"Yeah, like, in 10 years it's going to be World War 3."

"I know. I'm going to be 19. We're going to have to go to war."

"I heard World War 3 is already started, but we won't have to go for 10 years."

"Yeah. It's started already. But the real world war won't be for 10 years."

As we got up to get our warm spiced coffee drinks, I suddenly felt terribly depressed. "Did you hear that?" I asked. "Those kids were talking about going to war. They were NINE years old and talking about World War 3."

It was startling, and made me wonder what kind of world we had created - that war was the expectation of our nation's youth. And not just any old war, but the mother of all smackdown numero tres.

I wasn't worried about going to war when I was a kid. We had the evil Russians to fear, not war. War back then was a handful of mysterious men in smoke-filled rooms without windows, pushing big red buttons and bringing armageddon to places thousands of miles away. It was a fear we couldn't imagine, so we didn't imagine it. We played Frogger and Pitfall and spun around on broken down cardboard boxes to people rhymically making fart sounds with their mouths. The human beatbox age was a simpler time.

But today's kids see news reports every day of American soldiers dying in a faraway place. They have family members, or friends with family members, serving extended tours of duty in the Middle East. And what are we telling our kids when they ask why we're at war? Do we tell them the truth? Or do we tell them what George Bush tells us because the Administration's soundbytes are hardwired into our polluted stream of consciousness? Do we reflexively demonize the nation of Islam? Do we define them all as "terrorists"? Do we say, "Because they hate us"? Or do we take the time to explain to our kids the way of the world - detailing our complex cultural differences, outlining our very different histories, and making an attempt to tell both sides of the story. They don't hate our people, kids. They hate our policies. There's a difference. They don't hate our way of life. They hate that our way of life is sustained at the expense of theirs. The responsibility for our current conflict is shared, depsite what you may hear from the righteous brothers at arms.

How do we raise our children so they don't make the same mistakes we've made? I don't quote Ozzy Osbourne very often - not because he isn't quoteworthy, but because his exact words are usually subject to great debate - but "maybe it's not too learn how to love and forget how to hate."

The alternative may be exactly as those precocious 9-year-olds put it.

We'll be going off the rails on a crazy train.

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