March 10, 2014
The Children's Crusade
When the narrator declared that he dedicated this book to Mary O’Hare, I was at first a little confused. I wondered who this woman was to him; I immediately entertained the idea of a possible love affair. I was even more confused as to why he believed that Mary disliked him. I sat there thinking that she was being unreasonably nasty to her guest. All he wanted to do was catch up with an old war buddy and talk about ideas for his upcoming book. It wasn’t until Mary finally spoke that she became my favorite character. I believe what she said was the most powerful part of the book so far: “You were just babies then!... You were just babies in the war – like the ones upstairs!... But you’re not going to write it that way, are you… Well, I know… You’ll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you’ll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, way-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we’ll have a lot more of them. And they’ll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs” (15). I found this passage so moving because it is so true. When I think of war, I do not think of all the teenagers or children who die. Every single man and woman who fight are somebody’s child; they were once innocent children. Later, the book mentions the Children’s Crusade; every war is a Children’s Crusade.
I also agree that war is sometimes made to seem glamorous. Yet there is not a single part of war that is glorious. It is death and pain. Like the play Lysistrata implied, was is what is truly obscene. I feel as if the narrator stayed true to his word to Mary that his book would not have a part for Frank Sinatra. He depicts the men fighting with vivid detail, whether it be good or bad. We hear about Weary the mean bully and about the hobo who has seen worse; we hear about the nitty-gritty of war. We are bombarded with both the humorous images, such as the male Juliet, as well as the horrendous images, such as the soap made of dead men. I feel as if this is a true account of war, even if the plot is made up of aliens and time travel. The only book I can relate this to is The Things They Carried. In that novel, the details and actualities of the story may or may not be true, but the basic underlying ‘truths’ of life and war are completely true. In Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy may be a fictional character, but the message is completely true.
The narrator admits to his readers that he had been a foolish child in the war. He was in no way like the suave Frank Sinatra. He also comes to the conclusion that Mary “didn’t want her babies or anybody else’s babies killed in wars” (15). This made me think about the children at Tunbridge. They are so curious and open. Some may be mean at times, some may be unbelievably sweet, but most importantly, they are all children. I cannot imagine these kids being sent off to war to witness the atrocious realities. Just last week, these kids were standing up and reading stories they had written about a field trip. They would discuss the gift shop or the bus ride. Afterwards their classmates would complement and critique both their stories their reading abilities. Every kid was polite and sometimes what they said was extremely insightful. Yet the format of their stories made me think of this book. These kids were writing about their life, just as the narrator does in the first chapter. I hope that these kids never have the ability to write a story about war. I know they will experience their own up and downs in life, but I hope that they never experience a Children’s Crusade.
The narrator claims Mary believes that “wars were partly encouraged by books and movies” (15). To a certain extent I agree. When books and movies are censored to only show good moments or to show a glorified version of the truth, people will never fully understand. That is why I believe that in novels such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, words such as the n-word should not be censored. That word is the truth and history of that time. The cruelties played on Jim also speak to the truth. Literature and movies are a way for people to learn and understand the truths of history. As Sidney wrote in his essay, literature does something history cannot, it teaches the reasons and consequences.