War books showed up like shoppers at a Going Out of Business sale. But books on peace were virtually absent except for peace as death, isolation, or spiritual search. Try it with your favorite children's books publisher. It will tell you a lot about what children learn.
From Bill Clinton, George Bush and Craig Scott: Nation's Leaders">Bill Clinton, George Bush and Craig Scott: Nation's Leaders Mislead Youth by Preaching Peace, Practicing War by David Cook, Common Dreams
Flash forward to last week, as the Amish school shooting in Pennsylvania prompted President Bush to call a similar, post-Columbine conference on character and school violence. Present during the Maryland conference (alongside Attorney General Gonzales and Secretary of Education Spellings) was Craig Scott, the now-23-year-old who had lost his sister and friends in the Columbine shooting. During the only meaningful moment of the conference, Scott stood and addressed the president.
"I've grown up in a culture today that doesn't teach me anything of substance, of value, how it bombards me every day with messages of emptiness and shallowness. And the youth are crying for something to stand for, something to believe in. If it weren't for my faith or my family, I possibly could have fallen into the lies that our culture tells us. But now I've traveled, I've spoken to over a million teens across this country.... I've seen depression, anger and loneliness, students without direction or purpose.... I've seen students who called themselves cutters, have cut themselves because that's the way they know to take out the pain that they're dealing with. I've learned a lot about my generation. And I've learned a lot since I lost my friends and my sister.''
And then Scott said the greatest words the president or anyone else could hope to ever hear:
"And the main thing I've learned is that kindness and compassion can be the biggest antidotes to anger and hatred, and I believe the biggest antidotes to violence.''
The president responded in the only way he could, which was to thank Scott, applaud him and then ask for a copy of his speech.
The next day, researchers from Johns Hopkins released an updated body count for the war in Iraq. An estimated 600,000 civilians have died since the war began. These are not soldiers or armed resisters; these are mothers, grandfathers, children playing outside. Families, just like yours, just like mine.
God forgive me should I ever truly understand how presidents Clinton and Bush are able to mouth the hollow words about protecting children ("We must ... teach them to express their anger and resolve their conflicts with words, not weapons") and then, hours later, give the damnable blessing for military movements that kill other people's children. This is madness, and it is the hell-bent delusion of violence that allows the president of the United States to stand up before a crowded room of parents, reporters and survivors and announce his intentions to better protect American schoolchildren, and then, before the same day's sun sets, continue to sit on a war that has killed more than half-a-million souls.
And a nation of 300 million barely opens its mouth.