I read a poem today about the loss of a friend during the Vietnam war. It was beautifully written, and dredged up a memory, a very strong memory, of when I was seven.
My father has business in America and Canada and decided to take my mother and me along. It was the late sixties and Vietnam was a very delicate subject in the U.S.. I, of course, only wanted one thing: a Johnny Seven OMA (that’s one man army for those not in the know). I wanted one, I wanted one, I wanted one! I also knew how to play my parents; it was the one subject I excelled in.
We ended up at ‘Swartz‘ on fifth avenue. It’s gone, now, but back then they called themselves ‘the best toyshop in the world’. It was a huge shop, but no Johnny Sevens in sight. We traipsed from floor to floor and I was getting close to the point of hysteria when my father finally decided to enquire at the counter. Quietly, we were told they had them in stock, but because of Vietnam they were kept hidden under the counter.
I was told off for shooting guests in the hotel corridors. Later that week we went to stay at a friends house in the country, somewhere in upper New York. I had a splendid time – probably being a brat. I ran around pretending to kill people, while kids not much older than I was were actually doing it for real. But I was seven, war was exciting, and it didn’t seem perverse. Pretense is all very well, but I now thank the gods I wasn’t born ten years earlier and in the U.S.A..
In 2011 the last veteran of the first world war died. We now have no one to talk to about that horrific world changing event, and soon, if we’re not very careful, it’ll be forgotten.
The second world war and other wars will inevitably follow…. Then, one day, the only idea of the horror of warfare will come from those playing video games. Already they have taken over from kids roaming the streets with gun shaped bits of wood howling “Peow, peow, peow!” and falling over pretending to be dead. Maybe it’s a good thing, too.