We pulled to a red light and sat in silence for a bit. My mind drifted…
Earlier in the day, I had watched a trailer clip for the upcoming Godzilla film. I am compulsively drawn to the Godzilla myth—almost as much as to the present situation in Ukraine.
I imagined Godzilla rising from the Black Sea off the Crimean coast—the words of Tennyson intoning in the background:
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death,
Rode the six hundred.
I suddenly realized that the two greatest fears of my childhood had come to life again in 2014. Fears buried for nearly three decades—fears I had dared not share with anyone in my youth. (Sometimes children are convinced that giving voice to a fear will bring it to pass.)
A row of windows ran across the upper wall of my fifth grade classroom. Every day, I sat at my desk and looked up, often petrified by the thought of one of two things appearing in that bay of windows: the head of a rancorous Godzilla wreaking havoc across Minneapolis, or a Soviet special delivery mushroom cloud reducing the Twin Cities to ash.
Sure, one of those fears was more legitimate than the other. One was based in Iron Curtain reality, the other the result of an over-imaginative young lad watching one too many B horror movies.
One summer day in June 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev visited the United States. His limousine drove right by me on Nicollet Avenue. And before I knew it, the fear of mushroom clouds and gargantuan lizards seemed to vanish in a puff of Glasnost. The felling of the Berlin Wall. The independence of the post-Soviet states. Onwards and upwards to the Wars on Drugs and Terror.
Some 24 years later, Godzilla and Russia rear their heads again on the same day, and a shiver runs down my spine. And I realize that both fears were really heads of the same terror.
Did we not practice hiding under our school desks to protect ourselves from a radioactive monster?
Did that really happen? Was I one of the last duck-and-coverers? Indeed. And I wonder: are we headed—
The light turns green. My daughter snaps me back to reality with a question.
We drive on. But I can’t get that iconic Godzilla roar out of my head.
At the end of evening prayers with my daughter, I usually ask, “Do you have any special prayers?”
The special prayer spectrum is fairly wide. It can include anything from a complete recap of the adventures of Ralph in The Mouse and the Motorcycle (I’m fairly certain God is a Beverly Cleary fan by now) to environmental supplication for some endangered species mentioned in the latest issue of Ranger Rick.
I imagine all of the heavenly hosts look forward to my daughter’s evening prayers. But that night, I bet you could have heard a pin with one hundred angels atop it drop following her impromptu benediction:
“And, God, help Papa with his articles that maybe those people who stole the land of those other people, near the Olympics, that they’ll listen to papa and start being friends again.”
Her words kept me awake half the night. How spectacularly innocent is the mind of a young child. Innocent to think that the world is even more compressed than the one we adults have crafted with our technology and social media. Innocent to believe that my written words could work geopolitical wonders and remedy the centuries-long match of terrestrial tug-of-war.
Well, here I am, at my keyboard, two nights later. Earlier today, the Duma formally voted to annex Crimea.
Crack of the knuckles. How to stop the next Cold War (which American war hawks and military industrial complex stooges seem to want even more than the Russian Federation)?
CTRL + ALT + PEACE.
Voila! Peace-loving Putin!
Were it only that simple.
Maybe I should back up and explain how my daughter learned about the Crimean Crisis in the first place. Back to the conversation in the car on the way home from school.
My daughter and I spend a lot of time studying maps. She has a world map carpet in her room. There are maps on walls all over our home. And many nights end with her and me taking magic carpet rides with our index fingers across an inflatable globe.
She knows that Russia is the big country in Eurasia (on the carpet map) with the bear on it and the building with the onion domes. It’s also where Siberian tigers live and where the Sochi snowboarders and figure skaters recently competed.
I can’t imagine how this combination of things adds up in her mind—thank goodness she doesn’t know a thing yet about vodka or Dostoyevsky.
As we drove home, I informed her that something important had happened to the world map. (By the way, the most wonderful thing about explaining world news to a child is the necessity of breaking down an event or situation into its simplest form—something few adults ever do for their own general understanding.)
I told her that there was a country called Ukraine. Its neighbors were the big country of Russia to the east and the countries of Europe to the west. Not too long ago, the people of Ukraine elected a president who had a tough decision to make. Would he spend more time playing and trading with Europe or with Russia? It was a tough decision to make.
Russia’s president was being a bit of a bully about the matter, though. He had already been a pretty mean bully against the country of Georgia, recently, in a similar situation. So the people of Ukraine knew they had to take this Russian bully president seriously.
“Georgia?” my daughter asked. “You mean where the big aquarium is?”
“No, different Georgia,” I replied. “This Georgia is a country near Ukraine.”
I continued. Europe really wanted to be BFF with Ukraine, too. And so, a game kind of like tug-of-war erupted between Europe and Russia—only poor Ukraine was the rope.
My daughter was piqued, “What happened?”
I explained that the Ukrainian president decided to call Russia his country’s BFF. But a lot of people in Ukraine were angry about this—so angry in fact that they threw stuff all over the place, lit a bunch of fires and made the Ukraine president play hide and seek.
For a few weeks, everyone in Ukraine was happy that the bad president was now hiding. This meant that they could finally spend more time playing with Europe. However, that’s when the Russian bully president decided to steal a part of Ukraine called Crimea.
“How do you steal part of a country?” my daughter asked.
“The Russian bully president sent soldiers,” I answered. “He lied and said they weren’t Russian soldiers—even though everyone knew they were. But nobody wanted to go to war with Russia—except a few American senators. It was a total mess.”
My daughter made a quick moral observation, “Lying is wrong. So is war.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “That brings us to today. Today the Russian bully president told the Russian leaders and the Russian people—and the whole word, in fact—that Russia was going to change the world map. Crimea was no longer the color on the globe of Ukraine, but the color of Russia.”
This came as a real shock to my daughter. She knew that geographic borders changed in history—case in point the territorial development of North America. (She’s just finishing up the Laura Ingalls Wilder series.) But she had no idea that the shape of the world could still change.
“Trust me,” I assured her, “it surprised the people of Ukraine, as well.”
We sat in silence for a moment.
“What do you think will happen now?” I asked.
“Probably war,” she replied. “Which is sad, because no one should die in a war.”
“You’re right, no one should,” I agreed. “What should you do when a bully comes along?”
My daughter thought about it. “Martin Luther King Jr. marched.”
I reminded her that Gandhi had marched too. And that it was still possible for lots of people to gather together and refuse to give in to a bully.
We discussed the importance of standing up for what is right and the risks that come from doing so—and how difficult it is to do so while maintaining a commitment not to strike out against one’s enemy.
“You have to be brave,” I added.
My daughter thought about it, “Yeah, but that probably won’t happen. People don’t like it when someone takes their home. There will probably be war.”
“Maybe,” I said. “But I hope not.”
We pulled to a red light and sat in silence for a bit.
That’s when my mind drifted to fears of mushroom clouds and radioactive lizards.
When the light changed, my daughter snapped me out of my cerebral time traveling session. She had been telling me something over and over.
“Huh?” I asked.
“Maybe the problem is lines,” my daughter suggested. “Maybe there shouldn’t be countries. Maybe that’s the solution.”
My daughter knows Russia only as the land of winter Olympics, Siberian tigers and onion domes. She has no knowledge of the former name for that land: the Soviet Union.
She has no idea what it is like to live in daily fear of a nuclear monster showing up in your classroom window and reducing your planet to a crematorium within minutes.
And I do not want her to experience such a world.
Two nights ago, my daughter prayed that my article would be the solution to the problem in Crimea—when it was she who had actually stumbled upon the answer earlier in the day.
I’m merely the one typing it out.
The problem is those damned imaginary lines that define us—that have defined human beings going all the way back to ancient Jericho, Byblos, Aleppo and Damascus.
Remove the lines, and the monsters in the window disappear forever.
Out of the mouth of babes.
Latest posts by Arik Bjorn (see all)
- Puerto Rican Paper Towels to Buchenwald Bread Crumbs: #RESIST, While You Still Have Time - October 6, 2017
- “So I Ran for Congress”: Sneak Preview Redux - August 22, 2017
- “So I Ran for Congress”: A Sneak Preview - August 4, 2017