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Jewish World Review March 31, 2003/ 24 Adar II, 5763

Suzanne Fields

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Yertle the turtle goes to war | A British satire on the Internet introduces a pig named Sad Ham Hoofsein in a mock episode of "Sesame Street." Sad Ham comes to a sad end, roasting on a spit. The Count, a "real-life" Sesame Street character who shows kids how to count, becomes a weapons inspector who shouts as he searches: "One! One weapon of mass destruction! Ah ha ha ha! Two! Two weapons of mass destruction!" Big Bird represents America the Good and Oscar the Grouch plays a symbolic role as a whining Democrat.

Sad Ham, the recycled Count and the others are the brainchildren of "The Brains Trust," with a message about the war that recalls the humor (if not the tone), aimed at the home front during World War II.

Zap the Jap. Hit the Hun. Schoolchildren, like their parents, knew the enemy, and cartoons vented the universal anger toward Hirohito and Tojo, Hitler and the Huns. Children who grow up on fairy tales quickly learn the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. So why not draft Big Bird for what our parents and grandparents called "the duration"?

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, author of the books in many a child's toy box, drew political cartoons during World War II. The Germans were depicted as dachshunds and the Japanese were menacing cats. He worked for PM, a left-wing daily newspaper in New York, satirizing isolationists at home as cowards afraid to fight.

Yertle the Turtle, a ferocious dictator in the children's story of that title, originally had a mustache; Dr. Seuss originally imagined him as Hitler. Racist or not, the Japanese, as depicted by Dr. Seuss, represented the Zeitgeist of the time: No one saw any reason to soften the image of the men who bombed Pearl Harbor and organized the Bataan Death March. That was a black-and-white war, with no shades of gray. When the war was over, Dr. Seuss converted them into the characters that delight children to this day.

Parents, teachers and psychologists hold different opinions about how to teach children about war. It's only common sense not to let young children watch the nightly news with its grim messages of death and destruction, but if they chance to see some of the news (and they will), an adult ought to be available to answer their questions. When war comes into the living room, and Channel 7 mortars Channel 3 and Fox News bombs CNN, there's no way for children to escape the ugly side of war.

They're bombarded as well with anti-war attitudes, which only further confuses and multiplies fears. Few of the isolationists of the '30s continued the drumbeat of opposition after we went to war in 1941, but that's not true of the dissenters today. The anti-war regiments get more television coverage than their cause deserves, and show scant regard for those whose parents, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts and cousins are off at war.

Some psychologists say it's helpful to cultivate anger in children toward Saddam Hussein. Older children can throw darts at his photograph or imagine him as the enemy in a video game. Younger ones can see him as the Big Bad Wolf defeated by the three little pigs. It's not hard for children to understand that he is a cruel man that our brave soldiers will eliminate. Kids don't require subtlety.

G.I. Joe now comes in a wide assortment, including female, black and Latino (and an Asian GI Joe is on the drawing board), so children can act out their fantasies through toys, too. Children can appreciate the plight of the Iraqi people who deserve to be free of a vicious dictator, who does horrible things to people. There's a lesson from the hero of Yertle the Turtle, a little turtle named Mack, who is miserable at the bottom of a pile of turtles that supports the throne of the evil king. The king threatens to pile on even more turtles beneath his throne:

That plain little turtle below in the stack,
That plain little turtle whose name was just Mack,
Decided he'd taken enough. And he had.
And that plain little lad got a bit mad.
And that plain little Mack did a plain little thing.
He burped!
And his burp shook the throne of the king! ...
And to say the great Yertle, that marvelous he,
Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see.
And the turtles, of course . . . all the turtles are free

As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.

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© 2001, Suzanne Fields. TMS