I always got the feeling that my parents were a little bit sad they missed the summer of love and 1968 in America. They were too old (although they were about the same age I am now) and too Midwestern to get caught up in the movement of the times. My Dad use to like to claim he was a hippy just because his hair was a little long and his sideburns were slightly past his ears. My Mom used to brag about how she carted my brother in our little red Radio Flyer through an anti-Vietnam War protest.
My Mom was so anti-war that it translated into the banning of water guns from our house. In fact, when I finally got a Nintendo (several years after they first came out), I was not allowed to buy games that involved guns or shooting. Except the Star Wars game because according to my mom, Star Wars didn’t count. I didn’t argue the logic of this when I was 10. I got a game with guns.
Growing up I had a poster that followed me to 3 different bedrooms as I moved around as a kid. I can remember staring at it before I could read and wondering what it said.
I can remember asking my Mom to read it to be over and over again, “What does it say?”
And she would tell me “War is not healthy for children and other living things.”
In 1967, a group of women who called themselves Another Mother for Peace (AMP) brought this slogan into the generation’s psyche. The group’s members stood behind the mission that “we who have given life must be dedicated to preserving it.” Membership at its height was over 450,000 women nationwide.
The phrase was crafted, along with the group’s traditional image associated with the phrase of a black flower on a yellow background, by Lorraine Schneider and became a pop culture phenomena. The rallying cry turned up on posters, t-shirts, patches, buttons, bumper stickers, and the like. The poster I ended up seeing everyday was not the traditional flower, but a children’s drawing of two stick people, a boy and a girl, riding a giant stick dog. They dog was orange, yellow, and white, and reminded me of Barkley from Sesame Street. Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams in the movie Dick think they can convince Nixon to stop Viet Nam with the power of the phrase and their tits. You can even get download “Peace Packs” which generate a poster to put on the walls of your Sims' pad with the phrase on it.
AMP’s first public anti-war effort came on Mother’s Day with a mailing of cards to members of Congress reading “"For a Mother's Day gift this year I don't want candy or flowers. I want an end to killing. We who have given life must be dedicated to preserving it. Please, talk peace!"
The group continued as a non-profit organization until the mid-1980’s. With recent world events, there has been a resurgence in interest in AMP and its aims.
If there is a second birth of AMP, it will not be lead by its original founders. Most of AMP’s pioneers have passed away. Lenore Gould Breslauer, one of AMP’s seven founding mothers, died at the age of 80 from lung cancer on March 14th, 2003. Last May, Erin Brockovich presented Breslauer with a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Children’s Health Environmental Coalition (CHHC).
Her daughter, Nancy Chuda, co-founder of CHHC with her husband, said of her mother’s final days that “she was very, very forlorn about what was happening and confused and concerned and, understanding the movement that she and other women led so nobly, could not understand how such inhumanity to mankind could go on… She was very, very saddened at the impending war."
Despite the anti-war poster on my wall, I was raised with the dichotomy of knowing my father was trained to fight wars. Enlisted in the Army when my parents first got married, he was discharged long before I even came along. It was never something we talked about in detail. I remember 3 things. My Dad’s uniform hung behind plastic in their walk-in closet. When I went in the closet to play dress up, his hat was one of my favorite things. My grandparent’s also had a wall covered in family photos and snap shots going back to when they were kids. One of the 8 x 10’s was of my Father in his uniform. The third thing- my father’s 35 mm slides from his time deployed in the Middle East.
We didn’t have a regular projector and screen, but instead a little hand-held light box. A stack of slides went on a holder on the left slide, and has you pulled the lever back and forth, the slides dropped into view then into the right hand side of the viewer. Movement like the old-fashioned credit card machines that took the carbon copy. Same noise. The rubbing of slightly ill-fitted parts back and forth.
Only when I was in high school did my Dad share a few tales of his Army days. There was a time he bet someone that he could walk in a pool end to end without getting completely wet. My father, being 6’4”, was tall enough that his head stayed above the water the whole time. The bartender made the guy pay up because my father did exactly what the bet was for- going end to end without getting completely wet. There was also the time he sat on top of a building throwing snowballs at people as they walked by, and the time they drank with an executive from Phillips Oil.
My Dad still insists on buying gas at Phillips 66.
I’ve never asked my Dad about his basic training. I’ve never asked what kind of guns he was trained to use. The most I know about what he did was that he helped map the areas where he was stationed- North Africa and Iran. He always said he was as close as you could come to being a dissident while still being enlisted.
Only in these last few days have I gained an appreciation for what this dichotomy taught me. People enlisted in the military are only doing their jobs. Just like I wake up every day and have to tell person after person that their auto insurance has been cancelled and we won’t reinstate it no matter how much they cry and complain, members of the armed forces have to accept their job description too. It doesn’t make it right, it doesn’t make it wrong. It is simply a job where they must do what they are told.
My mother taught me war is undesireable, peace is better. My father taught me that one can both be part of the establishment’s machine and question it at the same time.
I see the anti-war protestors on TV, blocking traffic and carrying signs. They lack the passion of the past generation. The local news showed protestors marching in downtown Boston. They all looked bored out of their minds. The national news showed protestors sitting inside, dressed in military costumes and fake blood. They too looked bored and uninterested in what they were trying to accomplish. How many body bags have to come home before a nation’s passion for peace is aroused?
I can remember when the first Gulf War started. Dan Rather told me that America was at war. There had been other military events in my lifetime at that point, but nothing on the scale of war. I wondered that first night if life was going to change for me. I woke up the next day to cold weather and a beautifully sunny blue sky. It was one of those winter days that from inside your house you can look out the window and believe that it is Summer. I remember thinking that life at war was no different than a life during peace.
I wonder if that feeling will hold true this time around.