A few days ago the ever-curious little minds of my children were especially sharp as they readied their homework at the kitchen counter after school. I swear I don't even know how some of these conversations get started, but anyway, suddenly they were asking me questions about the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Like, why did we go to war there? And why are we still at war anyway?
Well, it's complicated, I said, obviously stalling to gather my thoughts. I've never personally been a fan of these wars, but I also have the benefit of time, and we know so much more now than we did ten years ago. And, this may be revolutionary, but I generally try and impart a fair judgement when trying to communicate these things to my kids. I try to teach them the historical perspective, rather than my own, usually very political, perspective. I do this for a couple of reasons: First, my husband and I do not agree on much politically, and I am not about to circumvent that in order to bandwagon their thoughts on my side. He provides me with the same respect. Second, I am, if nothing else, a Liberal Arts student with a history minor, and history, in a strictly educational sense, is not emotional or political. It is factual.
All this just to explain why, when my children asked me why we are at war, I didn't go off on a diatribe of how ridiculous it is and how much it has cost our country, both in dollars to our economy and in the lives of beautiful young statues who have been destroyed.
What I said was, Well, we thought the 9-11 terrorists were connected to Afghanistan. We thought that their leader was hiding there, in the mountains. And then we thought the leaders of Irag were hiding terrorists, and weapons terrorists could use, and so we sent soldiers in to find these things, and destroy them before they were used to attack us again.
But mommy, they said, why couldn't we find the terrorist leader? Why couldn't we just make the people tell us where he is?
I said, we can't assume someone is guilty by association just because of where they live, or what they believe or what they look like. if someone stuck a gun in your face, and said, Do you like Pokemon? Well DO YOU? You would probably deny liking Pokemon, because you're scared of what might happen if you admit that, when you didn't even know it was bad. That's what it was like for many, many of these people. So we had to investigate, and try and find the guilty people, which were often in the government, and leave the civilians alone.
It didn't always work out that way, I said. That's how war works. It's not cut and dried.
But why can't we still find him, mom? Is he still there in the mountains? Can't we keep tracking them through the caves there?
Well, not really, I said. And then I came up with what I thought was a brilliant analogy.
It's like Fantastic Mr. Fox, I said. We've been reading the book recently and have seen the movie. In Fantastic Mr. Fox, the farmers keep digging and digging and digging, becoming obsessed with getting that fox, with killing him, because he's been stealing their chickens and so forth. They dig up the entire mountain and waste a ton of money in their endeavor to get that one fox. And they never catch him. Ultimately, he wins.
It changed the course of our little conversation, that analogy. Because suddenly, I had switched the bad guys and good guys. The good guys were the foxes, the ones being chased deeper into the ground, trying to escape the evil farmers. Nevermind that Mr. Fox is something of an antihero, committing crimes in order to continue his own survival (although within the natural instincts of a fox.) And he was being chased by people who didn't understand him, and wanted to kill him. Uh, not the image of Bin Laden I wanted to impart. But, I was stuck. I tried to adjust, but it was no use. Their next question totally threw me.
Didn't they find the leader guy in a little hole in the ground?
Uh, no. Wait, that was Saddam Hussein. The leader of Iraq. Different guy.
But it was a hole, right? And the people were hiding him, and bringing him food?
Because he was a coward. And instead of protecting his people, whom he had claimed to love, he hid in a foxhole and let them starve while their economy fell apart. But they didn't really understand what was going on because he'd been lying to them. And the United States and other countries, under the United Nations, ended up taking over his government to try and teach them how to piece themselves back together and be a functioning country again. But again, they didn't really understand so that didn't work out the way we'd hoped, either. And that's why we're still there. *
So, do the bad guys always hide?
So, war doesn't really solve anything?
Yeah, pretty much.
Maybe it is that simple.
* I realize this is overly simplistic, people. They are kids, and I am not Christianne Amanpour for crying out loud.