Monday, October 01, 2001

What is war?

We were reading my daughter's story-of-the-week for school the other night, when the subject of war came up. The story made a fairly veiled reference to World War II, and my daughter wanted to know what a war was, and why it was, and were we going to have one now.

It was so much easier when she didn't actually pay attention to what she read.

It would have been nice if she had focused instead on the resonance the story had with her own personal life -- it was about a man who left his homeland of Japan and settled in the United States, just as she left her homeland of Russia -- but no, what she wanted to talk about was war. And so, like parents everywhere these days, I tried to answer her questions as honestly but as soothingly as possible, without transmitting my own doubt and fear and worry.

She didn't think that countries fighting each other was such a great idea, and didn't want something bad to happen now. I told her that our country tried to keep from fighting, but that the recent attacks were so bad that we had to do something. I told her the smartest people in our country were hard at work trying to figure out what to do. I hoped that was true.

I also told her that worrying didn't do much good; it couldn't change what would happen, and could only make us unhappy. Besides, worrying is my job. I don't know if that put her mind at ease. But I expect the immediate worries of fourth-grade life are a much more ever-present anxiety provoker than the very abstract concepts of war or terrorism.

I hope so, anyway. Fourth grade is scary enough.

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