Friday, July 21, 2006

Children and War

When it came to war and children, I imagined that I would write about the ravages of war, about how children are the worst affected in modern-day conflict, and about child soldiers who are forced to abandon their families and home towns and forced to kill in the name of religion.

I never imagined that I would write about Israeli children casually scribbling messages on bombs meant for Lebanon.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Pictures from Associated Press

Frederick Deknatel, at War Post (via Amitava Kumar), in his essay Obsessed, asks,

I wonder how the Israeli girls who write on bombs that kill Lebanese girls, and their mothers and old grandmothers, would explain their war obsession. The girls’ doting mothers take cute photos of them with digital cameras: soccer moms next to tanks, the healthy-looking women crouching to catch this moment in their daughters’ young life. Maybe they talk about this moment at dinner, at night. Maybe they try and tell the daughters that it’s fine to be obsessed with war, to write on bombs, since all they want is peace. Maybe they tell their daughters who the bombs kill, before reminding them to eat their beans.

Granted these children live in the Middle East where peace is a scarce commodity and where children live day in and day out among the ruins of war, the sounds of gun fire and the threat of suicide bombings, but I wonder what the parents of the children in the pictures were thinking.

Are they so jaded that they took the girls and let them frolic among the war heads dreaming up things to write on the bombs while they stood around, chatting, taking pictures? Don't children get desensitized to war and all the havoc it causes by treating it so trivially as the girls in those pictures seem to be doing? Aren't children supposed to be feeling sad about all the death (as Frederick says, of little Lebanese girls) and destruction these bombs are sure to cause? Aren't children supposed to be making drawings and writing letters to their Prime Minister to stop the war? Aren't children supposed to be writing peace letters to the children of the "enemy"?


Lisa Goodman at On The Face (via Curious Gawker) provides some background and much needed context to these pictures.
On the day that photo was taken, the girls had emerged from the underground bomb shelters for the first time in five days. A new army unit had just arrived in the town and was preparing to shell the area across the border. The unit attracted the attention of twelve photojournalists - Israeli and foreign. The girls and their families gathered around to check out the big attraction in the small town - foreigners. They were relieved and probably a little giddy at being outside in the fresh air for the first time in days. They were probably happy to talk to people. And they enjoyed the attention of the photographers.

Apparently one or some of the parents wrote messages in Hebrew and English on the tank shells to Nasrallah. "To Nasrallah with love," they wrote to the man whose name was for them a devilish image on television - the man who mockingly told Israelis, via speeches that were broadcast on Al Manar and Israeli television, that Hezbollah was preparing to launch even more missiles at them. That he was happy they were suffering.

The photograpers gathered around. Twelve of them. Do you know how many that is? It's a lot. And they were all simultaneously leaning in with their long camera lenses, clicking the shutter over and over. The parents handed the markers to the kids and they drew little Israeli flags on the shells. Photographers look for striking images, and what is more striking than pretty, innocent little girls contrasted with the ugliness of war? The camera shutters clicked away, and I guess those kids must have felt like stars, especially since the diversion came after they'd been alternately bored and terrified as they waited out the shelling in their bomb shelters.
Please do read the rest.

While this explanation may help us understand just how it came about that these children wrote on the bombs, it still does not explain why the parents allowed these children close to the bombs or how they thought it was all right to have them write whatever they did. Whatever the explanation, whatever the justification, it just does not bode well for the future.

Crossposted on Project Child.


gawker said...

This is utterly creepy and bizarre. It marks the end of humanity. If this is the future generation, well, maybe we should stop hoping for a better future.

Nithya said...

This is unbelievable. How can such young kids be so happy about sending a message to people being killed? It is sorry that a society is guiding kids to be this way. Too bad.

ggop said...

Now I have seen everything! :(
WTF is wrong with these soccer moms? Have they gone crazy? I thought parents struggled to explain the reality of war and how complicated things are..

Thanks for this eye opening post Sujatha!

greatbong said...

Ahem. Pardon me for being the party pooper here--but why is everyone so shocked? Ever since the Intifada, there have been countless pictures of Palestinian children, some mere babies, with guns in their hands---dressed up as jihadis. Where was the indignation then? Or did I miss it?

When you have been locked up in a bunker with a man on the opposing side threatening to decimate you, such reaction on the part of soccer mums is perhaps the only natural one.

greatbong said...

As an addendum, I am not commenting on whether it is a "good" thing or not, merely the "natural" thing.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Gawker, that is the thing that concerns me the most, where what is unfolding in the Middle East is taking the future generation.

Nithya, GG, I know you left your comment before I put the update up. When you get a chance, please do read Lisa Goodman's article. As I say however, although it explains how the pictures came about, it does not make me feel better at the direction in which these childrens' thoughts must have been heading at that time.

Greatbong, yes, I was indignant at those images as well and in some ways (especially given the explanation of how these images came about) those photographs of Palestinian babies were more reprehensible. My grouse is not against the Israelis in this episode. My grouse is not even against the Israeli moms writing messages on the bombs. They are grown ups, they understand what they are going through, they understand the history behind what is going on now.

But the kids, the only thing they know is fear and sadness at the destruction they are experiecing. Rather than siezing this opportunity to sensitize their children to the ravages of war, they the children are being co-opted into the hate mongering.

Perhaps I don't know. Perhaps because I don't live in a war zone I don't know how I will respond in a situation like this. What will I teach my children if I've just survived days of bombing? I don't know.

But if this is the consequence of war - that the next generation has no choice but to be casual in its response to death and destruction, that they think bombs are a way of life - then it's just sad. There is definitely no end in sight to this conflict then.

And this applies to the Palestinians as well. I am not taking sides in this war. I'm wondering where we are going with this.

Y? said...

God this is terrible.The media is desensitized , the next generation is in the process and we in a distant relatively 'safer' world are going to just endlessly ask questions.:(

barbarindian said...

The difference being when Palestinians and Muslims write such messages it is usually directed towards all infidels. Here the messages were specifically meant for a bloodthirsty terrorist leader.

Children need to be exposed to the truth, they need to be taught about Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, Kim il Jong and Islamic terrirists.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Y, I also feel the same sort of helplessness. :(

Barbarindian, yes, children need to be taught their history, but children also need to be prepared for the future, and this, certainly is not the way to do it.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Outsider, There is no defined battlefield, it could happen anywhere.

That is exactly what I was thinking was wrong with modern warfare. There is no defined battlefield. I put up a post about this in my other blog (Project Child) that I'll put up here as well.

Ominous words, those, but true.

Anonymous said...

What these Israeli children are doing is OK. I think it helps them feel like they are, in a special way, apart of the solution (kill the terrorist), as opposed to having them hide in bunks and feeling hopeless all the time -- which is a part what the terrorist are trying to accomplish. It's a life and death fight and even the children should have some sense of the realism. Just because we can sit around and eat candy and snooze half the day away in the West doesn't mean the rest of the world has such luxury -- try to have some global perspective and some passion for human liberation.