Reading the Paper with My Boy

The Next Family

By: Tanya Ward Goodman

I read the paper with my son this morning.  Couldn’t miss the headline “U.S. Kills Bin Laden.”  The font was gigantic.

“Why’d we kill him?” my son asked.

“Well,” I started. “He was in charge of some people who blew up the World Trade Center.  A lot of people died.”

“Then I’m glad he’s dead,” my son said.  He did a little victory dance, the kind of dance a football player might do after scoring a touch down.  “We killed him, we killed him,” he chanted.

I took a deep breath and explained that, yes, we did kill this man, but killing was not in general a good thing.  I explained that even though Osama Bin Laden had made some very bad choices and done some terrible things, right now, someone somewhere was probably very sad that he was dead.

“But he deserved it,” my son said.  He pointed to the line in the newspaper – a quote from our president, “Justice has been done.”  And then he returned to his victory dance.

My husband read down through the article and pointed out that Obama was somber when he spoke.  We spoke to our boy about the sober reality of killing another human being.  It is very hard to explain war to an eight-year-old because it goes against everything that we teach them on a daily basis.  “We don’t hit,” we say.  “Treat others as you would wish to be treated,” we repeat.  “If you can’t say something nice…”

“I don’t understand why we have to kill people,” my son said.

I don’t really understand it either.  And it bothers me.  Human beings have made so much progress.  We build amazing cities, figure out how to make computers the size of a candy bar, we write symphonies and novels and create art.  We work to better ourselves and our communities.  We strive to find connection in our families and circles of friends.  We come to the table to talk and try to compromise and work together and play nice, but at some point the disagreements will become too great, the anger too violent and we will push back our chairs, return to our animal selves and kill.  I am disappointed that there is no better answer.  I don’t want to say to my boy that we’ve run out of options.

My eight-year-old, by nature of his youth, is closer to his animal roots – his body and brain must evolve and open to the tamer ways of civilized society.  I work hard to help him temper his anger, control his impulse to raise his fist.  On a day like today, I will try even harder.

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[Photo Credit: Flickr member Carlaarana]

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