LONG before Johnny came marching home, I'd grown tired of TC the military fever pitched by the gulf war. To quote a still angry but no longer young man of rock-'n'-roll, "What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?"
So I asked the director of my daughter's day care center if I could present a program promoting peace.
For three weeks I prepped and fretted over my talk, wondering, "Will the kids Rambo me out of the room?"
Finally, I was on a bench facing the children. First, I mentioned how we'd heard a lot about war since winter but not a whole lot about peace. I told them that another word for war was conflict and that we could have conflicts in our homes or among our friends as well as between countries.
"What is an enemy?" I asked. Ten hands shot up. "A foe!" "Someone we don't get along with." "An opponent." "Saddam Hussein." Fighting is not the only way to solve disagreements with so-called enemies, I said. Trying to understand the other person and working toward friendship can be a better way to settle disputes.
Then I explained how the Russian people had been considered our enemies for 40 years or more. In fact, I said, when President Reagan first took office, he referred to the Soviet Union as the "Evil Empire," but a few years later changed his mind when he met the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. And thus the world entered a new era of Soviet-American friendship.
With that build-up, I came to the hit of my presentation. I showed the children two of the four-paneled peace lanterns that Soviet kids had illustrated with doves, a smiling globe, children holding hands and other symbols of peace. Last summer, 50 youngsters from Dubna, near Moscow, had sent the beacons to 50 children from my church, as part of a friendship exchange created about four years ago by a Wisconsin physician and his wife. I read the children the letter that Olya, a Soviet schoolgirl, had sent my son and daughter a month ago, and before I could read the closing, "Your Soviet Friend," a boy waved his hand, beseeching, "Can we write her a letter?"
I flipped open my briefcase and brandished several sheets of white paper. The day care director contributed more, and the kids set to work with their bright markers. While I circled the room to answer questions, they devised their own symbols and slogans. Two boys worked together on a Bart Simpson with a black eye who proclaimed, "War herts." A second-grade girl drew two men holding hands. Above their heads she wrote, "Mr. Buch, Mr. Gorbachev." Another folded his paper into a card. On the front he printed, "To Olya. Peace," making the O in her name into a peace sign. Inside, above the head of Bart Simpson, he had printed, "War doiese not pay."
As they drew, I listened in. To one boy who was sketching out a Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtle, another advised, "Don't send her a turtle. They fight." Four astute first- through fifth-grade girls slaved over a card which said on the outside, "Peace in the Meddle East." On another paper a boy drew a big peace sign with the American flag sandwiched in one side of the symbol.
All were beautifully done, but I have two favorites. One plump girl in pink sat stymied over what to do. Her paper remained blank until the fourth and final warning the day care director issued to finish up. Hurriedly she drew a rainbow. Underneath she placed a missile with a red X through it. "I hope this is OK," she said, shyly pressing it into my hand.
My other favorite has on one side the Earth with a marked-out bomb dropping toward it. On the reverse a boy had written, "Wore is Not the Riete thing We shod all have Fath."
Who was it who said, "The children shall lead us?"
Sherri Kimmel Diegel writes and edits the alumni magazine of Western Maryland College in Westminster.