Jeff mentioned a song in the comments here a few days ago, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier”, by Alfred Bryan and Al Piantadosi. Coincidentally, my friend Estelle Seguin ran into the same song because it was a number one hit the year before her grandmother was born, at a time when America was debating the need to prepare for war. You can find the audio on iTunes or at History Matters.

Here’s what Estelle has to say about it.

—Ted

“I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be a Soldier”

by Estelle Seguin

As a mother, I have first hand experience with the way frustrations can boil over, whether it is me with my kids or sibling rivalry. It’s not that huge a leap to imagine entire nations getting carried away with hate and misunderstanding. Luckily, my Buddhist training sometimes actually comes back to me during such moments. Sometimes.

The idea of extinguishing a precious human life I carried in my body, nursed and educated just for some extended real life chess game is beyond rational thought. I don’t even think I know of a proper word to use when pondering the notion. Preposterous? Outrageous? Perhaps, if you go to the root of the words and forget how they’re misused nowadays to describe trivial matters.

Like just about every mother in the world, a good part of my time is spent mediating. I cannot count the times I’ve said “well, who will be the first smart enough to stop”, “just because he hit you doesn’t mean you have to hit him back”, et cetera… You get the idea.

Now imagine the questions that must come up in these young minds when all they hear on the news are words like retaliation, defense systems, blah blah blah. People in fancy suits and cars negating absolutely everything I’ve tried to teach them about conflict.

I have enough to worry about: am I feeding them well enough, loving them enough, protecting them yet giving them enough independence, encouraging them. The list goes on. And then some person can decide to put them in front of a bunch of guns just to put a different coloured flag on a piece of land? I don’t think so.

Am I being selfish? Perhaps. Is it selfishness when my heart wants to rip in two when I see a mother on TV wailing in front of her son’s dead body? Maybe it is, maybe I only get it now because I’ve given birth.

I can’t even imagine sitting at a desk, ordering the mobilization of thousands of troops. Maybe we should change the language around war, make it harder to execute. Instead of troops, let’s use the words sons and daughters. Instead of front, let’s use the word target. Reporters will have to dirty up the language they’ve worked so hard to sanitize.

I would never wish it on a reporter or politician but it’s quite obvious they don’t feel the ache a mother feels when her child has died, just one of many lives destroyed forever.

I struggle to understand mothers of fallen soldiers who still support the war they lost their son to. It would be so easy for me to condemn them, get angry at them, want to shake some sense into them, but then I wouldn’t be setting a very good example for my kids. Maybe, when you think about it, they’re the ones teaching me.

There’s a brief article about the song on the History Matters site:

Roosevelt’s retort to the popularity of the antiwar song was that it should be accompanied by the tune “I Didn’t Raise My Girl to Be a Mother.” He suggested that the place for women who opposed war was “in China—or by preference in a harem—and not in the United States.”

I have two boys, currently 6 and 12. If my kids ever faced the choice of going to war, I’d cut off their pinkies and make the choice for them.

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