Sunday, May 1, 2011

What's Going On Here?

He was looking at the front page of the paper, a photo of very angry men in some middle eastern country, their mouths wide open, shouting. One man held another in his arms, his legs dangling, his head bloody.
Oliver scans the front page of the paper nearly every day and always asks What's going on here? Despite being in fourth grade, he hates to read and rarely finds out for himself by reading the captions under the photos, so I generally answer him as simply as possible.

There's a lot of trouble in that country, Oliver. Fighting, desperation. They're angry here because this person died in the fighting.

I've written a lot on this blog about Oliver's love of soldiers, armies, as he's always called them, whether single or many and much to the disgust and chagrin of his older brother Henry. They're called soldiers, not armies, Henry corrects him, pushing the papers aside for the sports section, his sole interest. Henry is perhaps more like his father and I -- pacifists, for the most part, disdainful of authority, particularly the military kind. I lean and keen toward non-violence and am conflicted when it comes to honoring the military, even soldiers sometimes. I find it even more difficult to speak to my children about my beliefs when nearly everything in our culture glorifies violence or at the very least, justifies it for some greater good.

Recently, Oliver created a pretty incredible tableau of toy soldiers and a bound plastic action figure. The action figure was actually Houdini, and he sat in a plastic chair, bound by a straight jacket, his mouth gagged. Oliver had placed tiny soldiers around the chair, their guns drawn and one standing with a knife at the prisoner's throat. The entire scene was filmed by Oliver on his iPod Touch, where he carefully explained that the bad man Gaddafi, from that country, I think Afghanistan, (it's Libya, Henry corrected, his eyes rolling), is getting ready to be killed by the good soldiers. I told Oliver that I admired the creativity, but the scene was disturbing to me because I don't like killing, no matter what.

This morning, I felt revulsion when I read about the death of the son of Libya's Qaddafi and his three grandchildren. I put the paper away before Oliver could see it and ask me, What's going on here? 

Because really, how does one explain that the good guys have killed the children -- the grandchildren -- of the bad guys?

Claire over at Life with a severely disabled child recently posted this clip from the great movie Witness. I'd forgotten about the movie and this scene.

The old man's answer is mine, I think. What is yours?


  1. I too was saddened to read about the death of Quaddafi's son & grandchildren.

    But can't say I am in camp with the grandpa just yet. Do I think mankind would be better off without the plethora of weaponry available these days? Absolutely. But with the multitude of weaponry that is out there I do think there are times the good guys need to be ready to defend themselves.

    Unfortunately I am not sure the recent bombing in Libya was one of those times. In fact, I'm pretty sure it wasn't.

  2. as usual, you have aptly described what I was ruminating: how do we explain killing the child and grandchildren of a very bad (and mentally ill) man?

  3. a wonderful scene from a wonderful movie.

    I would love to say I was with the grandfather. His sentiment is pure and honest and exactly what humanity should strive to be.

    But, sadly, it isn't.

  4. I just wrote this hugely long thoughtful comment and it disappeared. I am so frustrated. I cannot recall it all. I will say this, I agree with you on the non violence issue. I respect the Amish because they practice non-violent passive resistance, and if we all did that, the world would be a much, better, cleaner place. Gaddafy's child and grandchildren should never have been killed, but it was an assassination attempt on the man himself. That is not right either. He is not mentally ill. The man is a sociopath. some people are born with this disorder and he is clearly one as was Adolph Hitler and Charles Manson for that matter. He has had hundreds of people killed without batting and eyelash, and whether or not they were someone's children or grandchildren meant little or nothing to him. Nevertheless, he should be captured and brought to trial like anyone else. I am with the grandfather. What you take in your hand you take into your heart as well.
    Oliver will be alright. He is young and playing shoot em up is simply a means of acting out aggression that he may not otherwise be able to express in a culture that is restrictive to boys more than it is to girls, even now. Don't focus on it and it will dissipate. Give it attention and it will grow enormous. This is sort of what I said before. Thanks for a thought provoking post and I love Witness. It is a favorite! If my other comment is there, just erase it.

  5. "What's going on here?" - people angry, hurting others but sometimes not even angry, but hurting others. People making the same old mistakes, again and again.

  6. I'm with you. Any act that springs from anger, hatred, vengeance or the like can only spawn more like it. I am saddened and dismayed that we glorify and celebrate acts such as this (and the killing of Osama bin Laden).

  7. Hmmmm... my comment disappeared. I am with you and the old man on this one.


  8. What a prescient post given today's news. I feel conflicted about assassination as a form of justice, but if a surgical strike will end two 10-year wars, maybe it's justified. I am not trying to argue my point. Because, I don't know. Just sharing the thoughts I struggle with. As always, thank you for stopping by my blog. Yes, the paintings are so somber. I can't imagine what a lonely stressful thankless life it would be to be a secret agent. Not very James Bond is it?

  9. I am with you. I thought it again today, when they described the "taking" of Osama Bin Laden which was done in front of women and children. Once he'd been killed, the soldiers took his body, but left the other dead along with all those living. How do we create peace when our children bear witness to scenes like this?



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