I was sitting in my family room this evening watching my favorite television show (not that I watch much TV) and I noticed that my son was sitting at the coffee table playing with some small action figures; not the posable kind, but a futuristic version of the little green army men most of us played with as kids. My first realization, as I watched him set up one team in a perfect L-shaped ambush is that he probably watches me / listens to me teach way too much. My second thought was that how he plays and what toys he plays with are definite indicators of his upbringing and reflect the values of the household. Was that too large a leap of logic? I don’t think so. 

I remember being nine and running around in the neighbors’ yards playing everything from Cops & Robbers to Cowboys & Indians. Everyone who had a toy gun used it and the kids who didn’t have toy guns used sticks and imagination. I’ll never forget this one kid named Larry: red hair, freckles, youngest of a family with four children. Two of his older siblings were in constant trouble with the police and his mother forbid him to play with guns or ever simulate a gun with anything else. She caught him pointing a stick once and saying “Bang! Bang!” and I remember watching her hold his arm in one hand while she spanked him all the way home with the other hand. I didn’t understand what he had done wrong. God love that boy, he was back the next day aiming his stick, pulling his imaginary trigger and shouting, “Petunia! Petunia!” His mother had scolded him for “bang bang” so he changed it – but he didn’t change his imagination.

That was the early 70s and Vietnam was an unpopular “police action”. At all of about ten years old myself back then I went to my father – a lawyer at the time who later became a judge – and asked him what was wrong with playing guns? I didn’t understand. There were tons of movies on television about good guys and bad guys; cops and robbers; cowboys and Indians; astronauts and aliens; virtually every variation you could find of good and evil – or at least someone’s version of it. Heck, decades later we still have plenty of movies about good and evil. This generation’s latest variant is Jedi Knights versus the Sith and their pawns the Imperial Storm Troopers. Still, it’s good versus evil; right versus wrong; liberty versus oppression; freedom versus servitude; education versus ignorance.

My father explained to me that there were different belief structures in the world and that some folks just didn’t believe in violence. Others, he told me, simply didn’t like guns. In my infinite young logic my best argument was, “But policemen carry guns so they can’t be bad.” My next observation was even better (as I consider it low these many years later): “And our soldiers have to have guns to fight the enemy, so those guns can’t be bad either.” How does an adult – who never liked guns mind you – explain to a ten year old kid that it didn’t matter if guns were good or bad; what mattered was someone’s opinion and belief structure? He couldn’t. He tried, but was crippled by his own ignorance of and dislike for guns. I have to give him credit though: he never tried to pass that prejudice to me. He told me to learn for myself and make my own decision.

My awareness of today’s political environment, and my memories of growing up near the end of the Vietnam war led me to think even further back, about another two decades to the fifties. In many cities in our country today you can find a middle school that was originally built as a high school. Out behind it is the local National Guard Armory. The Armory, which housed the recruiters in addition to the local unit, was situated in proximity to the high school for a couple of good reasons.

Everyone knew, and no one was ashamed of the fact, that some of those kids weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed and some of them would be lucky to graduate from high school, much less get work afterward. The military offered them a good opportunity to become adults in our society, no longer dependent on their own parents and eventually capable of supporting their own wives and children. Yeah, it was kind of sexist; no one was thinking that little Susie was going to become a Sergeant and support her husband and children. After all, soldiers didn’t get pregnant and women’s rights weren’t viewed exactly as they are today. On the other hand, there were students who were quick thinkers who would make good officers if they could be recruited. High Schools were fertile ground of the seeds of great military servicemen.

Another reason those armories were welcomed so near the schools was because serving in the military was considered a more admirable occupation than it is today – at least in some circles. I mean, we have folks like Senator John Kerry who says (paraphrased) that stupid people go in the service and end up in a war. Wow. That surely makes high school kids just want to run right out and join up, right?

And let us not forget that the Cold War and the Red Menace that fed the fear of atomic bombs, probably making some school administrators happy to have a military presence nearby. It is such a different world today and that’s truly a shame.

The high school student population outgrew those original structures so new schools were built. Where once stood a high school now stands a building that is a recreation center or a middle school or a nice carnival field when the season is right. The armory sits almost unnoticed in some places behind that school with its staff and recruiter(s) – and the kids who could benefit most from that presence are miles down the road.

Now when the teachers identify a student who has the right drive and desire; a sense of patriotism and willingness to serve; or the hard head who needs maybe a higher level of discipline than normally exists in public schools, the teacher can’t simply walk that student out back to the recruiter. In fact, in many school systems today, such an action would condemn the teacher to ridicule or worse from his peers even if the option was available.

With our nation at war for more than five years, since the attacks of 9/11/01, it’s no secret that our military services are having a hard time recruiting and retaining personnel. Our society makes it difficult for them at every turn. The popular media outlets – TV news and liberal owned press – criticize the war and call for bringing home our troops. Politicians – more interested in the next election than what’s right or wrong – attack anything they can, even if it’s nothing more than to disagree with what President Bush is doing. Have you noticed that the Democrats don’t offer a different option for securing our country? They just complain about the plan President Bush has in place.

But, how can we have forgotten so fast? I wasn’t alive for World War I but my grandfather earned his American citizenship fighting as a soldier in the United States Army after immigrating here from Italy. World War II came and went as my father was growing up. During the Korean War my father served four years in the Air Force. Look at the sacrifices this country made on the whole during World War I and II. Look at the number of men who volunteered to go fight, especially after Pearl Harbor. Look at the suffering our troops experienced during certain campaigns in the Korean War, yet volunteers still stepped up. Those of you who are old enough should think back and remember what the values of the times were; what the news reports consisted of; what the crime rates were; what the politics were about. Am I romanticizing the times or was military service actually viewed as an honorable and admirable profession? Please, compare it to today’s perception of military service.

I look at the examples certain politicians set forth today where military service is concerned. Bill Clinton ran, smoked pot, and protested America’s involvement in Vietnam. I have no use for him whatsoever. John Kerry at least served, although I think his time as a politician since then has certainly insured he’s lost touch with any sense of duty or honor he learned during his time in the service. What heroes does this country have? Pick me a name that the news media has touted as having served with great honor and fantastic performance in any of the last three actions our country has been involved in? Heroes like USMC Lt. Brian Contosh. How many of you know that name? Type it into Google and see what you get. Tell me why this man wasn’t the leading story on every news agency in the United States.

The answer boils down to values. We as a society have grown away from being a warrior culture. We have embraced pacifism, welfare, and apologetic responses to every accusing question. Instead of raising our children and teaching them the difference between right and wrong – even if it’s through games of good versus evil – our society teaches them that nothing is worth fighting for and someone owes them something. If they have no legitimate claim to something for nothing they can pick a protected status, slide into it and immediately start complaining about how they are, or aren’t, being treated with the proper deference.

What really shames me most is that little more than five years ago our citizenry was attacked on our own soil and almost three thousand innocent Americans were killed. The reprehensible people who committed those attacks are still out there, planning, plotting and trying to figure out where to attack us next; how to attack us to get the biggest body count; how to leverage the most media exposure they can out of American suffering and loss. It may not be the exact same people – because our military IS good at what it does – but others who share the same belief structure as our attackers, and the same lack of values as we know them.

How can we have forgotten? What does it take to get America behind the defense of itself? What will it take to motivate this country? To make our citizens willing to sacrifice once again? My God, but I would rather leave my family to go fight in a war and have my wife working in a factory rather than have fanatical Muslims attack us again in such a devastating manner – or worse. Rest assured, they won’t be satisfied until they have spread their own version of a tainted religion to every corner of the planet.

So, as you sit and watch whatever it is that you enjoy on television, take a look at your kids and pay attention to what they’re playing. Am I suggesting that every parent should teach their children combat tactics and safe firearms handling / marksmanship? Absolutely not. We must all identify our strengths and the strengths of our children and raise them to best leverage the gifts God provided. Knowing that, we must also strive not to fall into the modern day trap of lethargy and lack of will. If we, as a people, fail to willingly and energetically defend this great country of ours, we’ll wake up one morning and find out that she’s been taken from us, replaced by an ugly rotting corrupted witch where the beautiful beacon of liberty once stood.

Please consider this: I don’t care what your beliefs about guns, gun control, crime control, etc are. Right is right and wrong is wrong. When you see your children playing before you freak out and scold little Jimmy for pointing a stick at his friend and saying “bang bang” consider what he’s learning. Don’t criticize the playing; supervise it. Structure it so that as the children play they learn concepts of fairness, justice, mutual support, defense, and righteous aggression. Teach them that while violence is not the preferred method of dealing with others in the world, it is sometimes a necessary option when others give us no choice. Teach them that such violence, when unavoidable and justified, must be embraced without hesitation and without guilt. It must be embraced with as much conviction of belief in our value system as our enemy has in theirs.

Let your children play with everything kids enjoy so much from Nerf guns to sticks to Play Doh to GI Joe and Barbie dolls. Let them disagree about rules and then teach them to communicate and compromise. Teach them too that they must stand up to bullies and not back up an inch. Teach them to stand side by side, setting down their petty differences, to fight against bullies, thieves, and other criminals as they grow up. Teach them that while we would really rather not have to fight, hurt or kill, that worse still is to accept oppression, stolen liberty or slavery of any kind.

There are so many good lessons that can be learned in a child’s play day, but they aren’t aware of it and can’t learn the lessons on their own. This evening I watched my son plan ambushes and set out Rebel Troops to counter the Empire’s Storm Troopers. I noted that there were only four Rebel troops to the eleven Storm Troopers. When I asked about the difference in numbers he very carefully explained to me that the Rebels had better weapons and training making each of them the equivalent of four or five Storm Troopers, so really the Storm Troopers were outnumbered. In addition, not all of the Storm Troopers really wanted to be in the fight anyway; they were there without conviction. Finally he told me that good always beats evil anyway so even if there was only one Rebel soldier – properly trained, equipped and motivated – the Storm Troopers didn’t have a chance.

If you don’t think such an outlook is realistic I once again invite you to search the name Lieutenant Brian Contosh on Google. One US Marine who was properly trained, properly equipped and highly motivated. One Marine against at least twenty enemy troops and ugly circumstances – and GOOD won out over EVIL – as the wisdom of a nine year old assured me it always would.

With just a little guidance and time that’s what our children can learn when they play. Shouldn’t we rejoice in the possibilities and work to make them reality.


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If you enjoyed this parenting article, please check out my book, “Father to Son” available for your kindle or in paperback. Only on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2ktfYDX

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