Welcome once more to the Chronicles of the Young EBL. Today I am responding to the monthly Bloggers for Peace prompt set by Kozo over at everydaygurus.com. Kozo has asked me, personally, to explain what influenced me as a child to become the kind of person who posts for Peace. Feel free to join in. It doesn’t cost anything and contributes to the greater sum of human happiness.
Well, my dears, I have been thinking and thinking about that last sentence for a few days, and now I have thunk I am here to share it with you. Come with me back to the wondrous world of the 1960s.
I was not a particularly pacific child. I got into fights and scrapes more often than a Sixties girl was supposed to; we were all sugar and spice back then, and that meant fighting was for boys. Boys were slugs and snails and puppy dog tails.
I had some friends who were boys, because I am subversive like that. The twins down the road, a son of my mother’s friend, a couple of boys from school who were not too fussy about gender if you genuinely liked Dr Who, and so on. Often we ran about the parks in packs and I had no idea who half the children were. It didn’t matter. We were a gang for the day, catching stickleback in the stream or throwing sticks into the chestnut trees to get the conkers down.
Idyllic, eh? Well, it was pretty sweet. I didn’t have a traumatic childhood apart form minor hurts and crises, and I am thankful for it.
So when a boy did try picking on me in the playground I felt quite entitled to punch him hard and then tell teacher. As I said, not very pacific.
My Dad had served in the army towards the end of the Second World War and in Germany in 1946. He had lots of happy memories of friends and people he met. He even wanted to marry a German girl but that was never going to be allowed. Otherwise I would now be something like Die Elektronischetaschefrau. Actually that sounds quite good…
Leider habe ich zu viel vergessen, auf Deutsch zu schreiben.
Now then, get back to the purpose of this post, EBL. Keep on track!
While I was living the dream paddling in the stony waters of the park, or picking leeches off my legs when I ventured into the mud, or skinning knees and elbows climbing the trees, or breaking my ankle trying to roller skate; while all this was going on other influences were at work for the very possession of my heart and soul. How very sinister that sounds! In fact, it was no more than normal socialisation.
My parents were prone to the casual prejudices of white English people, but also were fair and helpful and kind to individuals they met without being particularity interested in how those other people looked or acted. So I played with the children avoided by others, such as Elizabeth, who was black, or Cindy who had Downs Syndrome, or Nick, who was a very bright boy my age in a baby-sized body, or Lee, who had cerebral palsy. There were quite a few children about who were the survivors of thalidomide, but I didn’t know any personally. So I just thought everyone was a real person.
Then there was Sunday School. Initially my mother sent me to the local High Anglican church where I coloured in and recited the Ten Commandments. At that stage I took things literally, so “thou shalt not kill” meant just that, at least for humans. After I was too old for colouring in, I found the big church too scary on my own, with the high roof and smelly incense and lots of adults I didn’t know. My family didn’t go to church; my mother sent me on my own because she thought it would be good for me.
After I refused to go any more, my friend’s mother took me to their church, a fundamentalist Baptist congregation with a sliding floor over the pool for full immersion baptism. I thought that was very exciting, but eventually was thrown out of that Sunday School because I asked too many questions about science and cosmology. Still, I did learn that God was Love, even if some adults weren’t.
Those early explorations into religion would not be the main foundation for a later commitment to pacifism though, only an initial blueprint. No, the final keystone of the whole edifice came through the miracle of television.
The daily routine in our house was for me to watch children’s television until the Magic Roundabout had finished, and Zebedee had boinged the youngest children off to bed, and then for my parents and grandmother to settle down in front of the evening news. The television was left on for this while we ate tea, so as I chomped my way through cheese sandwiches and a slice of cake, and slurped down a cup of tea, I watched what was happening in the world. Mostly it was boring and incomprehensible. There were men talking in long words, and sometimes shouting, and occasionally there seemed to be a lot of concern about long haired people who liked grass. It was quite confusing.
One day there were bodies.
I’m sure there were bodies other days, but this must have been a particularly traumatic massacre. My mother turned the television off in a hurry but not before I saw rows of people lying in the dirt street somewhere foreign. My grandmother was crying a bit, and my parents were very hushed.
I knew, with a real sense of freezing clarity, that those people were real-dead, not pretend-dead like Cowboys and Indians, or Daleks. They weren’t going to get up and walk away once the cameras stopped. They were never going to get up and walk away. Never. Some other men had come with helicopters or tanks or jeeps, and killed them. They were just people, children like me, old ladies like grandma. Dead.
It was wrong.
And that was it. A moment in time when I simply knew it was wrong to kill people. A black and white, no nonsense, don’t even try to argue moment.
Nowadays I might think about justification for conscientious objection because apparently some people do not see this obvious truth. For me, there is no need for argument. It’s not about who has the best words or most unassailable logic. It’s about not killing people, because there is no way back from that, and dead is dead without distinction of good or bad. You don’t get different kinds of dead. There are no more chances, or room for error, or time to say sorry, or hope for a better tomorrow. One day we will all be dead. There’s no need to rush. I knew it then, in the way a young child can be certain and an adult can’t. I know it now, in the same way.
I don’t even know who those people were, or where, or when, least of all why. It would have been late Sixties, but probably not early Seventies, because I was quite small. I suspect it was Vietnam but can’t be sure.
In my cynical teenage phase I watched M*A*S*H and cemented my resolve. Killing people is wrong.
I conclude, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that television can be the conscience of us all, and now perhaps Face-twit and Tweet-book as well. Even, dare we hope it, blogging. You know what, if we all blogged about why killing people is wrong we could start some kind of Online Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement…..
Why Kozo – you clever, clever man!
Other bloggers who have cottoned on to this idea include:
and of course, Kozo’s original post