The Many Shades between Right and Wrong, and How do we Talk about War?

A Soldier at Parade Rest

Is it ever too early to broach the subject of peace? After watching a WWI Flying Ace movie over the weekend, dinner conversation tonight drifted into the idea of immortality. We have talked about Legends, and Icons and the idea that Heroes are Remembered Forever, but Legends Never Die. We have talked about artists and musicians and great people throughout history who are considered legends.

How do you talk about immortality with an eight-year old?

Then tonight, I asked Ben about his favorite legend. He started telling a story he is learning in school about a Great Friendship, where a man is accused of treason and sentenced to die in one week, at High Noon, in the center of the city, under the Emperor’s Ax. His friend steps in and says that he will serve the week in jail for his friend, in order to allow him to say his goodbyes. He promises the Emperor, that if his friend does not return, he will lay his own head on the block and die for his friend under the Emperor’s Ax. Many things get in the way of the friend getting back on time. Finally, with only seconds to spare, the accused man comes racing into the town square just as the Ax is about to fall on his friend, begging for mercy, and coming to take his own punishment. The Emperor is so moved by the depth of friendship, that he releases both men, and pardons the accused. The power of friendship saved their lives.

To say I was speechless, and teary-eyed after Ben’s retelling of this story only begins to scratch the surface. I was thinking he would tell me about a favorite Rock ‘n Roll Legend, or about Leonardo di Vinci, a favorite artist and inventor, or something – that someone would be the legend in his mind, not some deep and powerful story that portrays friendship at its most beautiful.

We talked about how most great stories, the kinds that get told and retold and passed down through time – that take on immortal status on their own – tend to have powerful friendship at their core. Or romance. Powerful love.

The subject turned to the love story in the movie we watched over the weekend. The pilot who risked his life for the girl he loved. And then we were talking about War. It got there so quickly. I didn’t have time to prepare. Ben is very opposed to War. I am too, except that I understand that it’s not always a Yes or No issue. There are varying levels of right that are in the middle ground on this one. Sometimes nations go to war to rescue the downtrodden. Sometimes nations go to war because there are war-hungry people in charge, and no one seems to be thinking about the civilians, the soldiers, or anything really at all – just bigger and better weapons. It gets ridiculous, and I get angry, but I had to remember that if he hates War, he could easily confuse the issues and somehow get to hating our Soldiers. I don’t want that.

Dang us and our conversational dinners, and wanting to discuss things of substance with our kids. Now look what we’ve done. We have a Conscientious Objector on our hands who is printing posters against War, and crying out for the Innocents who are Unarmed. (Seriously. He started coloring Anti-War posters after dinner while Bean was in the bath.)

And I want to tread cautiously, because my little Artist-Poet-Warrior-Inventor-Dirt-Bike-Rider is suddenly on a mission that I do not want to hinder, but I want to make sure he understands how fraught with tension the whole issue is – that there are strong opponents and strong proponents and rarely do they agree on anything, hence the fact that our world is always at war. And there really are good guys fighting good fights and protecting women and children, and those are heroes, and those are people with honor. They may be few and far between, or they may be the majority. I don’t know, but I want Ben to know that there are subtle shades all through this issue. Taking a bold stance Against something that affects so many people can be dangerous.

I heard a comedian (Louis C.K.) talk about how we are the only nation on earth where parents get to sit around wondering when we should start to talk to our kids about war. Most of the rest of the world is in the thick of it. Kids grow up with it, and it is what they know. So, I don’t want to act like it’s so off limits to talk about with my kids. I just feel a little overwhelmed and suddenly wildly under-educated and out of touch with Current Events, because they give me nightmares, to be honest.

There are so many sides to this story. I would love to appease him and just say, Yes – War is Bad. War is the Wrong Way Every Time. But what about the kid in his class who is living without one of his parents because either his dad or his mom is out fighting a war? What about that kid? What kind of damage could my son do by arbitrarily saying something like War is for Punks (like one of his posters said)?

I want to talk about Peace, without putting down our Soldiers. I want to walk a very fine line and be balanced on an issue that is out of whack. I am so totally open to suggestions at this point. I am beside myself just a little bit. Anyone else talking with their kids about War these days? How is it going for you? Care to share?


photo from here.

6 thoughts on “The Many Shades between Right and Wrong, and How do we Talk about War?

  1. I love the idea of soldier pen-pals! I wonder if there is something similar for children of soliders, so he can get their perspective too. I have no experience talking to children about sensitive subjects (mine is only 3 months haha), but I think it’s wonderful that you have such an open dialogue with your kiddos.

  2. Thanks for your kind visit yesterday! You made my day.

    I think it is great that you have these dinner conversations! It is so wonderful how engaged you child is and that you can have such open dialog. That story he relayed to you was very touching.

    I think you are right to keep the dialog open, as nobody likes war, but explaining the need for the military and supporting the troops is a great idea. Some people make cards for Operation Write Home to send to the servicemen and women. I know it is online. Just keep talking and enjoying. These conversations are great and treasures.

    1. Thank you. What a great idea. I got stuck on the thought process, but turning this into action makes so much sense for my boys. We will do some research on Pen Pal operations with soldiers or a base or something! This is exciting. Thank you so much.

  3. You can always teach him to talk about peace rather than war. Reframe the subject. Compassion is always better than confrontation, no. Maybe he can be our first Secretary of the Department of Peace.

    1. The first Secretary of the Department of Peace! I love that. I cannot tell you how much I love that! Thank you for your comment, and for visiting.

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