Last night, my husband had the kids join him while he watched the last 45 minutes of Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe. I blogged about it here. If you haven’t watched it — and I don’t recommend it — I would summarize it briefly as an incredibly stupid anti-War, anti-American movie that cannot be salvaged by Taymor’s really beautiful and imaginative staging of lots and lots of wonderful Beatles’ songs.
When my kids came to me to get ready for bed after having watched the movie, my daughter, 10, said, “War is really bad. Why do we have to go to war?” I drew in a breath, and mentally collected my arguments that no one likes war, but that some wars are necessary because the alternative is worse. Before I could even open my mouth, though, she chattered on: “But the Nazis were really bad and the only way to get rid of them was war. If we hadn’t gone to war with the Nazis, they would have put everyone in concentration camps. Sometimes you have to fight wars.” My planned lecture instantly shrank down to one phrase: “Sweetheart, you’re absolutely right.” Her brother nodded knowingly.
Having satisfied herself on this point, she came up with another question: “But isn’t it horrible to have to fight? I’d be so scared if I had to go to war.” Again, I gathered my argument, which was going to be that war is horrible, something I, as a physical coward, fully understand. Nevertheless, some fates are worse than war, such as being marched off like lambs to a slaughter to a gas chamber. At least with a gun in your hand, you have a fighting chance. I never got the chance. I’d just started my preface about understanding how frightening war is, when my daughter interrupted me: “But you know, I’d rather fight than go to a gas chamber. If they take you to a gas chamber, you know you’re going to die. But if you’re in a battle, maybe you won’t die.” Again, my contribution was “You’re absolutely right.”
The one thing I added to the mix is that people who assume no one wants to be a soldier lack empathic imagination (although I toned down my vocabulary for the elementary school set). While freely acknowledging that I’m too in love with my creature comforts (a clean home and a comfy bed) to want to be in the military on a day to day basis (and that’s not even considering the fighting part), I pointed out that a lot of people don’t mind the discomforts and that many people, while they find battle and death horrifying, nevertheless like the purpose and excitement of military service.
My Dad was an example of that mentality. While he had nightmares to the end of his days about some of the more horrible battles he experienced (with Crete and El Alamein at the top of the list), he also was at his happiest when he was in the military. He didn’t mind the discomfort too much, and he loved the purpose and camaraderie. From an aimless Marxist living (or, should I say, starving) on the streets of Tel Aviv, he suddenly had a life that mattered. He mattered. For the most part, that more than offset the truly terrible downsides he experienced.
I have smart kids, if I do say so myself.