War: Still Not Healthy for Children
by Paul Hellweg
If you’re old enough to remember the slogan “War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things,” then you’re old enough to remember that activists for peace can end a war. The phrase was popular during the Vietnam war, and a massive antiwar movement compelled the United States to negotiate an end. Fifty years later, the world needs antiwar activists more than ever: due to the aggravations of global climate change coupled with an increasing threat of nuclear missiles, a future war could easily become an extinction level event.
The Vietnam-era peace movement used nonviolent tactics, and demonstrations were large. On October 15, 1969, an estimated two million people joined peace demonstrations around the United States. More people participated on November 15, 1969, when half-a-million demonstrators flooded Washington, D.C., while simultaneously more than a quarter million gathered in San Francisco and millions more protested around the world. If enough people work together for the cause of peace, they can be successful, and the world is in desperate need of another success now.
Everyone claims to know “war is hell,” and we’ve read about the horrors – children with their skin sloughing off, civilians blinded and maimed, soldiers with arms, legs, genitals blown off. Paraplegics and quadriplegics. But most of us don’t really comprehend. If everyone truly understood the horrors of war and its aftermath, there would be no more war. Those of us who have been there do know. I served in the Vietnam war and came home with so many physical and mental issues that I didn’t begin to get my life together until my mid-60s.
Now I’m a father. I came to it late by some standards, but at the perfect time for me. My daughter Michele is six, and my most heartfelt dream is that she will have a chance to grow up. It would be wonderful if she were to have a long, full, and good life, but my fear is that she may not have a fair shot at pursuing life and its dreams. The possibility of human extinction adds a whole new connotation to the “war is hell” concept, and this new connotation should be an eyeopener for everyone.
I’ve devoted my life to anti-war activism and writings. When I first started decades ago, I believed that war was the worst scourge afflicting humanity. Now I believe our greatest danger lies in global climate change, which actually makes understanding war more important than ever, as militaries of the world not only consume massive amounts of fossil fuel, but go to war with each other over it.
Climate change threatens the survival of the human race, and wars are destined to be worse than ever. It’s one thing to fight for an idea, or for religious and tribal loyalties, but when your family, your group, your nation is in the throes of starvation, people are going to fight without restraint and without mercy. Everyone will suffer, including our children.
We need children for a lot more than just perpetuation of our species – we need them to smile, to dance, to sing “Let it Go,” to remind us that life has value. If you too have children, and/or you believe all children have a right to a full life, then please consider getting involved in antiwar activities. You don’t have to block traffic on a busy thoroughfare or glue yourself to a famous painting, just caring and doing a little something can help.
What can you do? You could start by expressing antiwar beliefs to family and friends and maybe neighbors too. You could hang a peace flag in front of your home. You could write letters to the editors of both local and national media sources and to your political representatives. You could join or make donations to pacifist groups. The possibilities go on and on: The Albert Einstein Institute (www.aeinstein.org) has identified 198 types of nonviolent action ranging from boycotts to vigils.
I am reminded of another Vietnam-era slogan: “Suppose they gave a war and no one came.” Activists for peace have ended wars, but we need to go even further. With human extinction a real possibility, the need now is to prevent future wars, not stop them once started. Here’s a new slogan: “Suppose they didn’t give a war because they knew no one would come.” Alone we can do very little, but millions of us working together can change the course of history and save humanity.
Paul Hellweg is a freelance writer and poet. Samples of his Vietnam poetry can be seen at www.VietnamWarPoetry.com.