Friday, November 1, 2013

Toy Soldiers



We seem to spend a lot of time thinking about the transitions young girls face as they go from childhood to womanhood. We have not spent as much time considering the challenges boys face as they enter manhood; the expectations and fears it surely must engender are all too often taken for granted. I did  not grow up having to think about what would happen if a war came and I was called to "duty." It should not be anyone's duty to kill for us or destroy an enemy we have not come to know. At one time, a long time ago now, soldiers were required to know their enemy. They had to learn about their culture; who they were as a people. It was only a slightly more honorable way to enter battle, if one can ever use the word honor as it relates to killing one's fellow beings, no matter the accepted reason.

When my oldest son was young, in that between place around age thirteen, he and a friend were behind the house one summer day playing with toy soldiers. They lined them up on the rock wall and went through whatever scenarios faux soldiers go through on their way to victory. I could barely hear them from inside the house and didn't pay it a lot of mind. I knew my son and life as a soldier was not being entertained as an acceptable future. They were just playing, I told myself, as I had done with toy cowboys and Indians on the floor of the living room a whole lot of years earlier. The problem with this lies in what it consciously or unconsciously teaches: to view others as potential enemies, as The Other.

At some point they reminded each other the county fair was that evening, and lying on the swimming raft for a while to catch some sun and get a little tan might be a good idea. This was followed by the names of some girls they knew. Soldiers were left at their posts and they came inside to change into swimming trunks.

Neither of these boys ever had to serve in a war, but many have. Some came back, too many did not. One is too many.


"Classic Toy"

The plastic army men are always green.

They’re caught in awkward poses,
one arm outstretched as if to fire,
legs parted and forever stuck on a swiggle
of support, as rigid and green as the boots.

This one has impressions of pockets,
a belt, a collar, a grip on tiny binoculars
intended to enlarge, no doubt, some
tiny enemy.

In back, attached to the belt is a canteen
or a grenade (it’s hard to tell). The helmet
is pulled down low, so as to hide the eyes.

If I point the arm, the gun, toward me,
I see that this soldier is very thin.

It’s almost unreal, how thin he is.


~Mary M. Brown



34 comments:

  1. Thank you for writing this thoughtful post, and for the poem by Mary Brown. As a man I often feel sad when media reports only "women and children" as victims of war. Yes, there are some young men who seem to love the whole idea of military service, but I suspect they are a minority. I remember once writing a short article for local paper about our ANZAC day commemoration. When I very gently attempted to interview one 80 something year old about it, his eyes filled with tears and he could not speak. There are so many men who silently carry the horror and pain of their war years all their lives and are never released from it.

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    1. Thank you so much for commenting, Peter. Our father's generation may be thought of as the greatest generation, but they silently carried around a lot of pain, as did their father's before them.

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  2. I found one on the beach when I was in HI. It brought back many childhood memories as we often fought WWII as many of our fathers had. I was drafted and it was not the fun and games we had played. The real heros are the ones who never came back.

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    1. Reality is so much harsher than the games we are taught to play ... Thank you, Steve, for commenting.

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  3. Another cultural effort to make war an OK realm for young men is clothing. I notice now the green (and sand color now for desert fighting) army fatigues are sold and worn by young men. Middle class stores like Pennys and Sears are likely places you might find them. Look around -- these fatigues are being worn by younger men as some sign of toughness, At least I think so. War is in fashion. -- barbara

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    1. This is a very good point, Barbara. There are many ways in which these ideas are promulgated and they become, if we aren't vigilant, a part of our consciousness.

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  4. This thoughtful post has brought back many memories that I keep buried under the gauze of time and distance. But they are still there and very little is needed to bring them up again. That poem! I feel it very deeply, Teresa. Sending you the wish that means the most to me: peace in our time. May I live long enough to see that.

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    1. Your comment has left me some food for thought .. how am I choosing to see the world ... thank you, DJan.

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  5. I do feel that formal initiation ceremonies have a useful part to play for young people. But conscripting them into the army is not a way to do it. I was reading Wilfred Owen's poems the other day.( rereading them rather.) Heartbreaking.

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    1. Rites of passage are important, but, as you suggest, other avenues need to be created and promoted. One of my earliest posts is about Wilfred Owen. http://teresaevangeline.blogspot.com/2009/11/for-all-wilfred-owens-of-world.html

      Thanks for commenting, Jenny.

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  6. We played with the green toy soldiers when I was a child. Sometimes I wonder if these games are a way to prepare young children for a real war.
    The "wars" we fought were very mild compared with today's video games. These games are very realistic and bloody even when they fight with "aliens".
    Could this be one reason why there are so many shootings in schools, airports, shopping malls, etc.?

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    1. A very good point, John. It is my belief that all these video games and even movies have, to varying degrees, inured us to violence.

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  7. This poem (new to me) is very moving.
    I shall save it.
    One dead soldier is too many.
    Wise words.

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    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Cait. Nice to hear from you.

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  8. A wonderful poem. And you are right, not enough is said about the lack of choices that many men had to face with regard to fighting in a war (especially one that may not have been about national security). And there should be more discussion about this. Some of the guys I knew served. Like you said some came back and some didn't. And although I will always respect the men that did choose to serve (even though I may think differently about the war they served in) I also feel strongly about those who had the courage not to serve because they believed it was not right.

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    1. I stand firmly with you on this one, Bill.

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  9. Of our eight children, only one daughter served. Thank the Universe.

    Every time I look in my husband's eyes, I remember that he served. And how he became changed. And how he carries it every days, for better and for worse.

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    1. Have you or Art read Tim O 'Brien's "The Things They Carried?" A heart-wrenching look at serving in Vietnam.

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  10. You have some terrific thoughts here Teresa. They make me think.
    Love the photo.
    xo Catherine

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  11. Thought provoking indeed. My thoughts are mixed. I had 3 older brothers who were sent to Viet Nam. None of them wanted to go. They went and they served. I thank them for their service even though that War was a needless drill. I was saved from the draft by a well-welcomed high draft number of 353. I still remember being a scared 18 year old watching well-healed politicians and government muckety mucks drawing numbers out of hopper like they were playing BINGO. Eff those effers as they played God right on effing live TV. Relief rang out as my mother saw the #353 displayed as those effers pulled out the capsule for September 14th. I called my father and asked him to bring home a 6 pack of Budweiser. He did. We celebrated.

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    1. Those were very tough times for young men and their families. I recall your previous comment around this issue and have given it much thought ... It was very much like Bingo and I find it repulsive and bone-chilling ... the depth of depravity it takes to play games with people's lives ... and it goes on and on ...

      I'm so glad you commented.

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    2. Only one son of a US Senator served in Viet Nam Twenty-seven sons of House members also served in Vietnam during the 9-10 year war duration.
      I can assure you more than 28 young men were drafted every 3 months in the county I lived in at the time.

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    3. Oh, yes. And more than that died every three months also, many many more ...
      I'm so glad you never had to endure that ... it must have been more than hard enough knowing your brothers were there ... your mom ... what a terrible time that must have been for her ...

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  12. What a thoughtful post, so gently written. I give thanks regularly that my sons didn't have to--and didn't choose to--go off to soldiering, and my heart cries for every mother who has lain awake in the wee hours worrying about her son or daughter who did....

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    1. Thank you so much, Ashling. I cannot imagine the anguish caused by having a son or daughter serving, especially when the draft gave so many no choice ...

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  13. i love this post. As a step-mother of 2 sweet little boys i often think of how boys seem to be overlooked sometimes in the frenzy of "being a girl" I'm glad that they don't play with army men now

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    1. Yes, they have such tender feelings, too, and their own set of passages. I'm glad they don't play with army men either ... they should be gone from our consciousness.

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  14. Interesting about the randomness mentioned in Steven's comment above. Many of the casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan were from poor, and disproportionately Hispanic, backgrounds to judge by their names. Economic recruits. A rich man's war but a poor man's fight as they used to say in the American Civil War...

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    1. You are correct Tony. (To a degree anyway) Reminds me of a quote by Muhammad Ali on Viet Nam. “The white man sent the black man to kill the yellow man."

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    2. It was very random, except for those whose fathers were senators, as Steven commented. I imagine you know the CCR song, "Fortunate Son." It chronicles this quite well ... Yes, it seems that serving has become a choice all to often for Hispanic men of this generation. I'm not sure why, but it certainly seems to be the case.

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    3. Steven, I'm very grateful for your comments regarding your very personal experiences around these events.

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  15. I guess I've never heard that soldiers used to have to get to know their enemy. What a battle stopper that must be. It's always amazed me how so called wonderful mothers can be in favor of war and nukes and drones to foreigh countries. They are families who just want to live in peace and it is not their fault they were born into a country rich in natural resources.

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    1. I will never understand mothers who condone these choices ... apparently they haven't yet experienced very many sleepless nights ... the entire issue around drones more than rankles me ...

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