It’s hard to teach about war to a not-yet-seven year old. My kids are military brats. Both of their Dads served in the military, and they’ve had to endure too much time of Dad being gone, on deployments, TDYs, training….
The military is familiar to them in that regard. Uniforms, tanks, weapons… all of those things are “cool” to my kid. He knows that soldiers “fight”. What he doesn’t realty know or understand is the horror of war. He knows that people die in battles. He knows about people being wounded.
But does he understand the sheer number of causalities, in just this one battle? Does he understand that these were not “just” soldiers, but brothers, and sons, and fathers? Does he know that the ground we stood on is the final resting place for many men who could not be recovered, and this was not just an old battle field, but a massive grave? Does he understand that many of the tombstones say “known unto God” because they could not be identified; and because of this, many families waited and hoped and prayed for years that a son would come home?
He doesn’t know. He doesn’t understand.
He walks through the trenches full of curiosity. He remarks, “oh, cool!” when he sees the dugout, and wants to explore the entire remaining trench system. He doesn’t know if the young man who stood there before him trembled with fear, because he is trembling with excitement.
The question then, is what can I teach him? What makes visiting these sacred places valuable to a child of six? And not just any child, but the child of a service member- a child who needs to not understand the reality of war for as long as I can protect him?
When we walked on a battlefield, I explained to my children that this was a sacred place. A place we needed to be respectful of. I explained as gently as possible that this is a place where a terrible battle happened, and many soldiers died here. In the trenches, I encouraged Bug to look around him and really see the trenches.
Where would the soldiers sleep?
Can a soldier stand up tall here? What could happen if they did?
Look at the mud on your boots? Aren’t you glad we wore good boots today? What if a soldier didn’t have good boots?
Over time, Bug started asking the questions-
Why are those big holes in the ground?
Isn’t it hard to live in there with all that water?
It’s so dark in there. Were they scared?
Why did they have to fight?
Some questions just don’t have a good answer.
Photographs from WWI battlefield remains and memorials- Hill 60, Hill 62, Yorkshire Trench, Sanctuary Wood- Ypres Salient, Belgium