Monday, November 21, 2005

Cult of the child

Cindy Sheehan, Mother Superior, has written a book entitled Not One More Mother's Son. I will not dishonor her son's memory by reading it, and I will contribute Not One More Conservative's Penny to her charade.

Look. I'm a mother. I have two sons and a daughter who will one day have to decide whether to serve in this country's armed forces. I don't want any of them to die - in action or any other way; if I had it in my power, they would live happily ever after. But I don't have it in my power. What's more, I know that at some point, the direction of their lives becomes their direction, not mine.

Years ago, I read somewhere about the "cult of the child," a piece of Victoriana wherein childhood, formerly the pre-adult stage of life to which no one paid much attention, suddenly became a kind of ideal state which parents were encouraged to prolong and celebrate. The cult of the child has reached fruition in our time - insofar as anything childish can bear fruit, which is sort of my point. Adults build; adults create; adults contemplate; adults forge bonds. Children imitate adults in doing these things, so that they can learn to be adults. This process is called socialization, or "growing up." But for some of us, apparently, watching our children grow up is too painful to bear. Is it the signal of our own mortality that shakes us? The sense that they may pass us by - or not achieve even what we have achieved? Is it that we're afraid of what they may say or think about us as parents?

I'm not immune to these fears. My husband, a more level-headed and cool-tempered soul than I, reminds me sometimes that we've had our own criticisms of our parents, yet (a) we turned out pretty darn well and (b) we still love our parents in spite of their failings. He intends that these things should comfort me; of course, they just make me more nervous. But that's my problem.

Cindy Sheehan's is apparently that her honored son never grew up to her. How can anyone "support the troops" without acknowledging their agency? How can anyone miss or ignore the fact that they're not just "mothers' sons" but men, entitled in our society to vote, drive, enter into marriage and other contracts, commit crimes and be tried and punished as adults, and - not incidentally - volunteer to serve in the armed forces? They may have any motive they please for their service. Some, probably many, do it for the money or the benefits; these are not trivial, particularly when the starting point is less than zero. Some do it for the adventure. Some do it for the guns; others to get away from home. Some do it for love and respect.

A few, I'm guessing, do it for patriotism and duty, but nearly all will eventually feel these rather abstract impulses, once they've been exposed to them and shown what they mean. Yet military recruiters regularly take verbal fire for emphasizing the reasons that young men (especially young men) do apply, like the education, training, and steady pay, not to mention the chance to do something exciting and dangerous, rather than the small-but-present risk of death or injury in tandem with the only "acceptable" motive: patriotism. Only those who feel, out of the box, an urge to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States need apply...

The weak-minded pacifism of some of this age's women, and the womanish men who admire them - bah! Do they honestly believe that war is never the answer, no matter what the question? What would their answer have been to Pol Pot? Khan? Vlad the Impaler? A stern talking-to? Shunning? They have avoided stating an answer because the extent of their "vision," such as it is, is to stand in the way of war, to protect all those mothers' sons out there without regard to the cost to other mothers' sons and daughters, including their own children's. They feel good about their efforts - they are serious, they are doing something that matters - but when they unbelievably succeed in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, they drop the issue like a toy they're bored with and move on to the next war.

There's always a next war.

And what was their answer to Saddam Hussein, benevolent ruler of the Kite-Flying ParadiseTM? Oh yes: authorizing the President to use force to bring him to task, then scolding the President for using force to bring him to task and claiming that the President had pulled the wool over their eyes. This same President whom they've derided for years as too stupid to pound sand: now he was canny enough to fool them in all their august sobriety. This is a reelection strategy?

Apologies to whoever said this first - I can't recall where I read it recently but I had the same thought: "We're stupider than Bush" doesn't have much bumper-sticker value.

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