My children have been talking about Donald Trump a lot lately. It’s not because they’re hearing a lot about him at home; we seldom talk about politics around them. They’re hearing about him at school, where roughly one quarter of his classmates are Latino. Another way of putting this is that one quarter of his friends are Latino and worried that they or their family members might be deported if Trump becomes president. Many of these children hold US citizenship, but their parents and siblings may not. They are faced with the terror of the breakup of their family. My children are faced with the loss of their friends to horrible circumstances.
But can’t they go around?
~Harry, referring to Trump’s proposed wall
When I was growing up in the 1970s, I had two big worries. My first worry was that my dad, who was in the army, would be sent to Vietnam. In those days, the war was featured every night on the news, in all its horror, not as sanitized as it is today. My father laughed and assured me that he would not be sent to the war. He could be certain of this because of his specialty, which brings me to big worry number two.
My father had been trained to maintain and build nuclear weapons. Later, he would instruct national guardsmen in their use. No, they would not invest in these skills to make him cannon fodder in the Asian theater. Dad was very proud of his technical acumen, and as a result, our house featured some unusual artwork: nuclear mushroom clouds. These were photos of real nuclear blasts. I looked at them daily. They scared the shit out of me.
In the 1970s, it was a given that the Soviets would one day, in their communist madness, blow us all to smithereens. And we would respond, making the earth completely uninhabitable. I once voiced my fear about this to my father. He told me not to worry. He knew how to survive a nuclear holocaust. This didn’t help, because I didn’t want to survive a nuclear holocaust. I didn’t want there to be a nuclear holocaust.
I used to have nightmares about Mechagodzilla. I had seen ads for the movie on TV, and this metal beast, belching fire and duking it out with Godzilla, scared me pretty badly. In a way, he neatly encapsulated my fears of manmade global devastation: the machine, without conscience, consuming all in its path.
Of course, I grew up, and with Glasnost and the demise of the Soviet Union, my generation breathed a temporary sigh of relief. The wall fell in Germany, Europe united, and we could forget our childhood fears for awhile.
But in reality, the sources of our fears did not go away. Many nations, not just two, have nuclear weapons. Terrorist groups could acquire them. The war in Vietnam has been superceded by the war in the Middle East, which is consuming countless lives daily. My childhood fears now seem trite compared with the reality experienced by children in Syria and other countries. Death, destruction, and terror fill their lives with real horrors—no need to imagine them or dream about giant Japanese lizards. Many children in Africa and Honduras are no longer allowed childhoods, as fundamentalist armies and drug gangs seek to recruit them at ever younger ages. Their choice is to join or die. The nightmare is real.
Too often, adults laugh at so-called childish fears. “There’s no monster underneath the bed,” we assure them. And they grow up and learn to accept that what they fear is “normal:” we will always have nukes, we will always have war, it’s either us or them. Talk about love and peace is all unicorns and pixie dust. It can never be any other way. Be realistic. Be a grown-up about it.
I don’t believe that my neighbors’ children should have to accept that dividing their families is somehow “normal” or “how it has to be.” I don’t believe that perpetual war is a given, either. I have yet to see democracy at gunpoint or bombing people into submission work. Violence begets more violence. There is always another choice. A harder choice, perhaps. But the only one that will save us and this most precious resource, our planet and all life upon it.
The worries of children should be the worries of adults. Instead of offering our children platitudes, we should offer them something of more substance: peaceful action.
There is no way to peace; peace is the way.
~ A. J. Muste
Our childhood fears pave the road for our adult fears. At 5, I feared Mechagodzilla and all it represented. At 25, I feared being able to support myself. At 35, I feared terrorists and more war. At 45, I am learning to fear fear. All hate is founded on the bedrock of fear. All anger, all conflict starts with fear. Our society and our world reflects our fears back to us: look in this mirror and see what we have wrought. It’s time to change what we see.