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War Hits Home

Tonight I kissed my boy goodnight and tucked him into bed, as again he prayed that we would catch the men we seek and that God would help the war to end soon. I wonder how many more nights he will have to say that prayer …

The dream went something like this: <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /> 
All the fifth-grade boys from his school were soldiers in the war. Dylan and my son were on the American side. Alex and others were fighting together with the Iraqis. These and other friends were found on both sides of the conflict, but none of them wanted to kill each other. They were actually trying to help and protect one another. Then an Iraqi soldier who was not someone the boys knew attacked Dylan. Alex and Andrew tried to warn Dylan and stop the attack, but it was too late. Dylan died. And it was very sad. 
Besides the emotional power of distant war expressing itself in this young American boy’s life, what immediately impressed me about his dream was that there were good people fighting on both sides. Is that an 11-year-old’s myth, or could it really be true? 
I listened intently to my son recount his dream. I acknowledged its—and his—sadness. Beyond that, I didn’t comment much, except to also acknowledge again how fortunate we are in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Edmond, Okla., not to have to experience that kind of suffering in real life. And I affirmed my son’s concern for all the people directly involved in the war. All of which was pretty much in line with what the experts advise.

In my last column, I wrote of family vacations. We were on one when the war began. We didn’t change any of our plans—unlike many who, we were told, canceled hotel reservations or cut trips short. Really, the start of war didn’t impact our several days in paradise at all, except that with CNN right there in our one room, we began and ended our days with war news. 
That’s a bit different from our routine when at home. No regular morning news for this family! We’re in too much of a hurry—and besides, we don’t have a centrally located television. Late in the evening, one or both of us parents may catch some talking heads on the various cable news networks on the television in our family room.   
Our 14-year old daughter, with the only other household television in her bedroom and an unusual interest in global events, will watch CNN some on her own. But our son really doesn’t get much news exposure at all, vastly preferring kid entertainment when he has a choice.  
And that’s just as well. In fact, limiting children’s media exposure to war is one of the key recommendations the experts make. So our family’s regular television setup works just fine under the circumstances. 
Nevertheless, there are questions and concerns. For weeks, our son had been praying daily that we would not go to war. Now he prays that the war would end soon. That people would not get hurt or killed. That we would catch Saddam Hussein—and sometimes he includes Osama Bin Laden too, making me wonder if, like our president, he has somehow linked the two together—and that we would not kill him or torture him, but lock him up for the rest of his life. That we would win. 
A few days ago, he voiced the almost casual question, “Will the war come to Oklahoma?” I answered no, and we agreed that we are fortunate to be far from the war. And yet, I think my son already understands that disaster and tragedy—including the intentional horror of terrorism—can happen anywhere. Like New York, Washington or even Oklahoma City. But still, that’s hardly the same as living with a daily personal fear or expectation of war reaching your home. 
Tonight I kissed my boy goodnight and tucked him into bed, as again he prayed that we would catch the men we seek and that God would help the war to end soon. I wonder how many more nights he will have to say that prayer …

Karen Johnson Zurheide is executive director of Positive Tomorrows, a center providing support services for children and youth facing family life challenges.