Like people around the world, I’ve watched the unfolding events in the Middle East with an uncomfortable combination of pride, hope, fear and confusion. None of us know if we’re watching the American Revolution, the French Revolution or the Cuban Revolution sweep across the historic sands. Those involved don’t know. They stand up to announce that they are unsatisfied with what they have, and that change must happen. Change will happen. We hope and pray that it is a change that leads to freedom, liberty, stability, education and joy for the people involved.
Now as the eyes turn to Libya, I keep finding myself brought back to my first or second grade year. I remember much more of the playground at the school that year than I do of the classes. There were huge concrete pipes and tractor tires set into the ground. There was a large grassy fenced in field. Jump rope was popular, and with it the jump rope songs that mysteriously pass down from generation to generation of braided-haired girls.
Sometime, I think in early spring or late winter, the rumor began on the playground that we were going to go to war with Libya. The dark, uniformed figure Gaddafi was set as the villain in the playground make-believes. The boys became bombers – arms spread wide circling around the uneven soil. Their well-rehearsed rat-a-tat-tat resounded across the monkeybars.
We girls, with the rhythms of the jump ropes, became the propaganda machine. I still remember (I wonder if I am the only one to remember) the modified chants we came up with. The first was simple: “America, Libya, War War War”. It was almost gleeful — egging on our government and soldiers to glory. The second was rather more creative, and alarming from the point of view of a peace-loving mother (as I now am).
(To the tune of “Say say oh playmate”)
Say say oh soldier,
Come out and fight with me.
And take my cannons three,
Climb up my poison tree!
Slide down my razor
Into my dungeon door
And we’ll be jolly enemies
Forever more more more.
Who wrote this? Was it me? One of the bigger kids? Was it an incredibly local phenomenon, or was this song spread through the network of cousins and old friends across four-square and hopscotch groups? I was like six or seven (which might help explain the scansion on the second to last rhyme). Why were we jumping to self-made battlecries? I find it even more perplexing now, with the help of Wikipedia. This must have been 1984 or 1985 — I was in a different school by 1986. Export controls seem insufficient reason even for fertile childish minds to leap ahead to war and enmity.
Decades have passed since then. I have gone from a child to a mother of a child about the same age. We’ve gone to war several times since then, but never with Libya. Still, that old colonel stands, unpromoted to the last, and declares that he will die a martyr rather than relinquish the smallest part of his power, while a wave of freedom-fighting rebels gathers to crash against the walls of Tripoli — there to be spent, to triumph, or to begin the long siege. None of us know where it will end.
Will my son remember? Will the name Gaddafi mean “the enemy” to him as well? Has that moment already happened, but with the Taliban, or Saddam? Do they sing war-songs in their private play in his school?