In Infamy

In Infamy December 2, 2018

I’m going to teach my first-grader about World War Two.

We’re listening to Tomie DePaola’s excellent 26 Fairmount Avenue series, and we’re just beginning the first book about the “war years.” That’s a good place to start. I decided to make it into a homeschooling unit study that will look nice on her portfolio this summer. I’m also going to read her the Molly McIntire American Girl books and possibly Lowry’s haunting Number the Stars. We’ve begun to watch classic black and white shorts with Shirley Temple; I’m going to show her newsreels, Loony Toons and scenes from war movies. I’ll read to her the story of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. I’ll find a way to explain about atomic bombs.

We started today, with a Socratic discussion on how the war got started. On Memorial Day I’d told her a little about World War One; we took up the discussion again this afternoon. I found myself explaining terms like “inflation” and how economic hardship can make you so desperate you’d trust anyone. I heard myself saying that Hitler only won a little over the third of the vote but took over as chancellor from there. I talked about how tempting it might be for a person feel like they were the master race, the very best kind of person there could ever be, the person for which every other person ought to be cleared out of the way.  I said “Eugenics” and I said “Lebensraum.” I told her it wasn’t just the soldiers and the police but the ordinary people of Germany and all over Europe who started buying these lies and persecuting their neighbors.

I started to talk about Pearl Harbor and the date that will live in infamy.

“Do you know what ‘infamy’ means? It’s the opposite of being famous. If everyone knows you did something good, you’re famous. But if you do something so horrible everybody finds out, you’re infamous. That’s what ‘infamy’ means.”

And then I was talking about internment camps.

And I said we’d take it from there, little by little, over the coming weeks until she was an expert.

I got online to look it up later, and realized that the Date that will Live in Infamy is December Seventh, coming up this week.

Rosie got herself a plate of marshmallows and melted them in the microwave for an afternoon snack; she took a handful of uncooked marshmallows as well. She went to turn on her cartoons, but she stopped.

“Mommy,” she said, stirring the marshmallows, “Will there be a World War THREE?”

We are at war already. We, the United States, have been at war 93% of the time since we’ve been a country– 222 out of 239 years. We’ve been at war in the Middle East since at least the 1990s, when I was your age. I was reading the Molly McIntire American Girl books at the time and was shocked to find that my time was also “wartime.” I asked my mother if I should be hoarding bottletops and knitting socks for soldiers, and she was offended. 

“There might be. I pray there won’t.”

“But,” she said, stretching her liquefied marshmallow into a long cobweb on the end of her fork, “Do you think there’ll ever be a World War Three?”

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