By Ernie McCray
As we opened our hearts, this past Veteran’s Day, to our nation’s warriors with hearty “Thank you for your service” like cliches, alongside heaping praise on them for being strong heroic and brave – I kept thinking of two young men I met a little over a decade ago.
They were among the first to die in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I met them at career fairs at their schools, while I was sitting at a table letting kids know that they (no matter what they might hear that night with recruiters of every stripe in the room standing erect and spit and shined with video games and gadgets glowing next to papers to sign) – well, I just wanted them to know that they didn’t have to join the military to learn valuable skills or find adventure or pay for college or serve others.
I love having conversations with students about how they might go about pursuing their life’s dreams, or go about, maybe, for the first time, even entertaining the notion of having hopes and dreams.
But, the one young man came over to our table and just glared at us and scolded us for our lack of patriotism and puffed his chest out about how, although he didn’t agree with us (he didn’t pick up a single flyer or pamphlet), he was joining the military so we could be free.
He never considered that he could have just passed us by as we, Project YANO (Youth and Non-Military Opportunities), don’t beckon students our way unless they look like they’re leaning our way. And we never say “Don’t enlist.” We just say “Check out this.”
The other young man hung out and conversed with us for a little while although he was firmly determined to “Be All He Could Be.” I wished him well.
The career tech at his school, however, was another story, as she paraded back and forth in front of our display, shooting daggers our way, mumbling words that fit the way she looked. It was such a sad sight to see.
But not as sad as seeing, maybe a year later, these young men’s pictures and names in the paper along with others who had lost their lives, convinced, in their innocent, un-explored minds, that they were “fighting for freedom” and “making a difference” and “keeping America safe.”
Our youth buy into the spiels before they’ve made any other serious commitment in their lives because Uncle Sam locks in on them with concentrated diligence.
He lets them play war games and ride in tanks at assemblies, from elementary school on up.
He’s stationed JROTC and recruiters on school campuses everywhere.
He’s got commercials all over primetime TV, slick and hip and powerful and appealing to young minds trying to figure out “What’s up”: “America’s Navy”; “The Few. The Proud…”; “Aim High!”
He can persuade a teenage boy to lash out at someone who showed up at his school to simply, in a spirit of love, share some info designed to get him to think critically.
It’s a money game, this militarization of our children. And the Pentagon and the Halliburtons of the world have the money to sell them on their wars.
Anyone who wants to help them wrap their minds and hearts around creating a more peaceful planet, has to hustle funds like a beggar on the street.
Like David Chesky, the three time Grammy nominee who has composed a comedic children’s musical called “The Mice War”: a film about the absurdity and senselessness of armed conflicts that has played to sold out crowds of children in Asia and Europe as a theater production. He now wants to reach a broader audience by producing it as an animated movie.
But he’s come up $283,055 short of his fundraising goal of $298,000 on KICKSTARTER.
So a large audience of children misses out on a story that can help them to see how our differences as well as our similarities can be embraced and celebrated, perhaps, before their young minds become conditioned to accepting war.
They are denied, due to lack of funds, an opportunity to get insights into how wars come about, how often groups are in conflict with each other because of a sinister story, a lie, that has been contrived.
In “The Mice War” the Blue Mice cry: “What we need is a war!” And they make up excuses for starting one, much like Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld, et al, spun tall-tales about weapons of mass destruction.
The Blue Mice create a military draft that leads to a “War Machine” designed to destroy the Red Mice who are peace loving, believing that all mice, no matter their color or shape or size are creed, should open their hearts to each other.
How does it end? I don’t know. I’d guess wonderfully as it’s a Broadway kind of show.
But I do know deep down in my soul that peace has to be the answer for human survival down the line and there could be no greater way to tell veterans “Thank you for your service” more than by honoring them with the nurturing of a generation who might just grow up with ideas that can lead to what “Veterans of Peace” are dedicated to: the building of a culture of peace.
If mice can do it, as I’m thinking they did in “The Mice War,” why can’t we?