On family movie night, the lot of us sat, salted popcorn in our respective bowls as we watched a bona fide, big budget B movie with a brand name hero. The opening sequence of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull found Indie in a tight spot. Cornered by a ruthless, long-legged, and red-lipsticked Cold War villainess, Indie made a daring escape only to find himself high-centered in a plastic, mid-century desert city complete with mannequin neighbors. Puzzled, it takes our protagonist mere minutes to discover that he has stumbled into a faux town, a testing model to determine the impact of a nuclear blast.
"Why is everyone plastic, daddy?" Ian asked, but before I could answer a flash whited-out the screen, and the movie cut to a scene of the plastic people turning to ash and blowing away on the nuclear wind. The screen showed houses disintegrating, refrigerators propelled miles in the air (don't ask), and cars being crushed by the tremendous force of the atomic bomb.
Ian curled into himself and flushed white. Mouth agape, he said, "that's terrifying." Isaac, eight years old and first born through-and-through, turned to console him.
"Don't worry; no one would ever actually use a weapon like that," he said. Unsure of his reassurance, Isaac turned to me. "Would they daddy?"
There is no good way to tell your sons that, in fact, folks would use that kind of weapon, and that, in fact, we are the only nation in history to ever deploy the weaponized atom. I paused, considered fudging, but then I decided that I'd rather my children learn the nuanced facts of life from me rather than from some wild-eyed peacenik on the playground of activism.
"In August of 1945, we used just this kind of weapon on the Japanese," I said, waiting to see their reaction. Ian turned, face blank, and asked whether the Japanese were bad people. "It's complicated," I said. "We were at war, and that kind of bomb ended the whole shebang. Many folks say that the Japanese were so scared, they surrendered, which may have saved a lot of American lives."
Ian turned back to the movie, body clinched. A minute passed. He turned back to me.
"Did the Japanese turn good because of the bomb?" He asked.
"Well, mostly I suppose the folks near the bomb site just turned to ash, or worse yet, got pretty sick and passed on. But later, both sides learned to forgive one another and we both just moved on. These days, I suppose you could call us friends."
"Good," he said. "Because I sure don't want the Japanese to drop a bomb like that on my school. Does anyone else have a reason to use that kind of weapon on us?" he asked.
"You don't have to worry about that, son."
That was the best I could muster.
Last night, after the obligatory and dead-horse-beating analysis of Miley Cyrus performing sex acts on overstuffed teddy bears and middle-aged men, the news spun hard, flashed a series of chemical warfare photos. The commentator said, "the White House has indicated it could begin launching missiles as early as Thursday, but how will the president sell this to the American people?"
I have thought about this comment since last night, and I have concluded that "sell" is not the appropriate verb. "Sell," I think, contemplates that there is a buyer in the marketplace of ideas. From what I've seen, there aren't too many American buyers of another war these days. I've been searching for a better verb. "Convince?" Too soft. "Foist?" Maybe. "Bamboozle?" In a manner of speaking. "Swindle?" Now we're getting somewhere.
The salesmen, advocates, foisters, bamboozlers, and swindlers are in full swing, there is no doubt. "There's nothing to see here, nothing too shocking," they say as the parade of dancing teddy bears and cruise missiles passes by in a blithe processional. They are moral contortionists; they peddle the notion that certain lines are blurred while others are not. They have the corner on the moral high ground, they say. War is the least repugnant, most righteous option. (And be ye not mistaken; launching missiles is an act of war, brief and limited though it may be.)
I've been watching this parade, though, and here's what I think: getting it on with teddy bears is creepy. No less creepy is the thought of a first strike against Damascus.
I'm no Indiana Jones, and I'm not in search of a lost ark, a crystal skull, or a Golden Age. I reckon things have been this unraveled for a while, and if you can point to a time where it was not so, I'll argue that nostalgia has robbed you of your better scruples.
No, I'm not looking for a golden age. But an age of reason? I suppose I'll hold out hope that one of those will roll across the calendar of history sometime soon.
Until then, I'll hold out hope that my boys will retain their childhood sensibilities, that they will see through this parade of horribles, and that they'll be one-day witnesses to the great Kingdom Come.