Thursday, January 03, 2008

Oliver's non-combat forces

"What's this?" demands Oliver, holding up a clenched fist with the thumb and index finger extended. He knows what it is and he knows that I know, but I play dumb and guess: "A letter L?".

"No, it's a gun!" he trumpets, and Mimi and I both wince. The idea of guns, as toys or otherwise, has infiltrated his circle of daycare friends and I am appalled and saddened that they seem to have embraced it.

I think he first mentioned last summer that he and another boy "sometimes play guns". It was funny when he told me that "sometimes me and D. fight hats", as I pictured them engaged in a kind of fencing duel using toddler-sized ball caps. The clearest way of expressing my dismay at the time was to say that "Guns are stupid. All they do is hurt people and break stuff," at which point Oliver seemed to defer to my world knowledge.

But the "hand gun" appears from time to time and I wonder who or what it is that makes children as young as 3 years old aware of violence and militarism. I find it just as unsettling that camouflage is a popular pattern for children's clothing. Are we meant to be desensitizing toddlers to warfare? They may not realize its purpose, admittedly, but I saw a more explicit expression of military chic at Old Navy: pajamas intended for small children, featuring a pattern of charging green plastic toy soldiers.

Now, I remember playing with such toys myself but I don't think war or military paraphernalia should be fetishized among the pre-school set. I'd like to delay some of Oliver's exposure to geopolitics and history for some time yet, and despite the prominence of peacekeeping operations, I'm not ready to explain concepts like "army" and "soldier" in terms of merely "helping people" as I have done with the emergency services.