18 Feb 2007

Celebrating WWII in the Burbs

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Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University, has a son who wanted a WWII-themed birthday party last Fall, and some of their suburban neighbors were not amused.

His wife, Brigid Schulte, described the responses in the Washington Post last December 11th:

How do you explain to your neighbors in Alexandria that you’re hosting a war party? More, why are you hosting a war party? I wasn’t sure myself. I only knew that Liam had his heart set on it.

One mother said no right away. “We’re trying to get him away from guns.”

Others were wary. I assured them that the Germans would be an imaginary enemy. We’d have boot camp, a map-finding activity — granted, for a sniper’s nest, ammo dump and secret war plans — and have them jump off picnic tables for the parachute drop.

I promised it would be an, uh, “educational experience.” I had Liam write a short “Road to D-Day” history that he would read to his troops in the ratline. We wrote up the military alphabet, cleaned up the words to the airborne infantry song, downloaded Glenn Miller tunes to play in the mess hall and even printed out a program for the party.

One mother worried that her daughter would be left out. No, no, I assured her, she was going to be a medic, and a friend was building a cool field hospital and ripping up sheets for bandages.

“In that case,” she said, “I’ll bring the blood.”

Turley reflects on the reactions in USAToday this week.

As soon as the invitations went out, a couple of parents politely declined to let their children come to a war-themed party. Afterward, Brigid — a Washington Post reporter — wrote a short piece about the party, and the response from outraged readers was fast and furious. Describing the whole affair as deeply disturbing, one reader chastised Brigid for giving into the base, violent inclinations of her son: “Here’s a novel idea: Say no. Tell him that war is sad and horrible and should never be a cause for celebration.”

There is a palpable sense among such playground objectors that boys harbor some deep dormant monster that, once awakened, inevitably ends with the invasion of Poland or a massacre at My Lai. Of course, millions of men played war games as kids without becoming war criminals. To the contrary, playing war was for most men an early type of morality play, defining values of sacrifice and selflessness. George Orwell once observed that a war-weary parent “who sees his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do.”

To teach that all war is immoral is to deny the absolute values that frame a truly moral life. Arguably, the view of all war as immoral is itself amoral. Whether it is World War II or the first Gulf War, there are wars worth fighting and causes worth dying — and yes, killing — for. The failure of the world to fight in Rwanda and Darfur are, in my view, amoral acts of omission.

Read the whole thing.


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