(Original article: Sarah Grey, Truthout, Feb. 4, 2016)
When he got home from Iraq, Hart Viges began sorting through his boyhood toys, looking for some he could pass on to his new baby nephew. He found a stash of G.I. Joes – his old favorites – and the memories came flooding back.
“I thought about giving them to him,” he said. But the pressures of a year in a war zone had strengthened Viges’ Christian faith, and he told the Army that “if I loved my enemy I couldn’t see killing them, for any reason.” He left as a conscientious objector. As for the G.I. Joes, “I threw them away instead.” Viges had grown up playing dress-up with his father’s, grandfather’s and uncles’ old military uniforms. “What we tell small kids has such a huge effect,” he told Truthout. “I didn’t want to be the one telling him to dream about the military.”
As the mother of a 6-year-old, I know what he means. My partner and I, as longtime antiwar activists, work hard to talk to our daughter about war, violence and peace in age-appropriate ways.
That’s why we were shocked this November when, shortly after Veterans Day, our daughter came home from kindergarten with a worksheet that asked the children to decide which branch of the military they would like to join. The class had been working on charts in math class, taking polls and graphing the results, which usually fell more along the lines of what flavors of pie they preferred.
Unsure what to do, I posted a photo of the worksheet on Facebook, with a simple caption: “I am not happy about this.” This kicked off a huge all-day debate on Thanksgiving, with many commenters (especially those abroad) expressing horror and others wondering what the big deal was. Several identified the worksheet’s content as “grooming” children for later military recruitment.
Perhaps the most insidious thing about this grooming is that it wasn’t even deliberate. The worksheet did not come from military recruiters. It didn’t have to. Search online for “military kindergarten printables” and you’ll find a wealth of free materials for teachers – a welcome resource in cash-strapped public schools, where teachers often pay significant sums out of pocket for classroom materials.
My child’s teacher wasn’t deliberately distributing propaganda. When we talked with her about it, she was surprised and very responsive. She’s a fantastic teacher. It’s just that our country’s $598.5 billion war machine is so ubiquitous that few people even think twice about its role in our children’s lives.
But we should. It isn’t just that the current wars are less about “democracy” than about oil and empire. It isn’t just the body count, though that is staggering: Researchers at the Costs of War Project at Brown University estimate 92,000 deaths in Afghanistan, 26,000 of them civilians, with more than two-thirds of Afghans now experiencing mental health problems. At least 165,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the Iraq war since 2003. US drone strikes have also killed about 3,800 people in Pakistan, most of them civilians. That’s in addition to the estimated 6,800 US soldiers and 7,000 contractors who have died, not to mention that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have filed nearly 1 million disability claims with the US Department of Veterans Affairs…