Guest Post: Fighting at School and Abroad

Another guest post from Cheryl (Bored In Vernal). Enjoy!

As the Christmas season progresses, some liberals have been asking why Americans tend to get involved in war so easily. Yesterday the answer became very clear to me: we teach our little ones to fight. I was attending a Christmas luncheon with several sweet middle-class ladies from the neighborhood when the subject of fighting in school came up. Nice Mormon lady #1 said, “I teach my kids not to ever provoke a fight, but if someone picks on them, they should beat the heck out of ‘em.” I wasn’t exactly shocked to hear this, because the very same attitude has become all too prevalent in American society. I listened carefully to hear the reactions to her comment. All of the nice Mormon ladies in the room agreed that their child should hit back.

I differ a bit in my approach to a school fighting situation. I tell my children to walk away! Tell the teacher! Come home and report the incident to your parents so they can call and have a civil discussion with the perpetrator’s parents! Wasn’t this what your parents taught you? Wasn’t this what Christ taught?

No wonder Americans feel that if they haven’t started the fight, they are perfectly justified in jumping into the fray. They’ve been taught this by their mommies. Like Helaman’s warriors, mothers’ teachings have a great influence. Americans in general and Mormons in particular are especially driven by an internal mandate to keep the world safe for democracy.

I have a suggestion. Instead of sending soldiers with camouflage uniforms and guns over to other countries to “keep the peace” and help set up governments, let’s send over politicians. With briefcases and palm pilots. They can help keep the peace. They can teach principles of politics and government. Send over as many politicians as we have troops. They can walk the streets of Baghdad teaching little children how to set up email accounts. If there aren’t enough politicians, send the young business students in their three-piece suits over to campaign for capitalism.

This Christmas season, I send out a plea. Teach your children not to play with guns. Don’t give your teenager a hunting rifle for Christmas. Model conflict-resolving skills. Read to them about peace and humanitarianism. Preach Christ’s teachings of turning the other cheek. Yes, we must take action to keep our homes, families, and society safe. But let not these actions involve violence. Teach the children not to hit back.


Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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37 Responses

  1. jana says:


    I am so with you on this! We didn’t even allow our kiddoes to have squirt guns when they were little because we didn’t want them to get used to using weapons–even in play.

    The reasons for war are complex, but a fundamental problem for me in the current American conflict is that those people who are making the decisions (e.g. presidents and prime ministers and congressmen and such) are eager to send soldiers to battle, yet with very few exceptions the leaders, their wives, and their children aren’t on the front lines. That doesn’t seem at all right to me–not that I think anyone should be fighting–but if the fighting is so necessary then why aren’t the decision-makers willing to risk their own hides???

  2. TMD says:

    First of all, on the playground front, pretty much none of your suggestions work. Having tried them as a kid (though for the more pragmatic reason that I didn’t really know how), these methods only increase the likelihood of being targeted for violent bullying and increase the intensity of other kinds of teasing, etc., and decreases the likelihood of having friends. Pretty much the only time they might work is if they cause a bigger, stronger kid to decide he respects you–then he either does the fighting for you or issues a credible threat to do so. If the strategy succeeds only because someone else exercises violence or the threat thereof, it doesn’t seem like a moral route to me–not only is it cowardly in the physical sense, it essentially shames someone else into doing something you would prefer not dirty your hands with but for which you are the sole benefciary–a moral cowardice.

    Second, it seems to me that there are realy problems with using one verse out of the gospel as a basis for all potentially violent situations. One might read the act of being smitten on the face as an insult, more than a physical attack. No where do I see Jesus suggesting that you should allow yourself to be (in extremis) killed without clear, principled reason. Moreover, we might recognize that there are lots of situations not covered by gospel parables: for instance, Jesus never seems to have dealt with Mary being attacked, for instance, though He did commend her into the protection of someone (i.e., John the beloved).

    I’m not saying that violence is the answer to everything, but sometimes it is not the worst answer–and I mean this in moral as well as pragmatic terms.

    Also, as a mere statistical issue, it’s relatively unlikely that many senior politicians would have children of prime military age–since many are in their late 50’s or even in their 60’s by the time they reach these offices, their own children would only be apt to (still) be in uniform if they became professionals, a small part of the military forces. Anyways, just because they believe something, why should they be compelling their children to do something any more than any one else? Are their children, by that point adults, not free moral agents? No one today joins the US military unless they want to. [If you’re going to make the tired ‘poverty/minorities’ argument, it too is fairly weak once you read the statistics: while minorities are over-represented in the military at large, they are (in terms of relationship to the general population) under-represented in the combat branches, instead being engaged in logistics, mechanics, etc., which might lead to civil employment afterwords. Rural white southerners, regardless of economic class, (and perhaps the strongest supporters of the current war) are disproportionately repesented in both the military as a whole and the combat branches. These are fairly long-standing trends.)

    Also, implicit in your suggestion that leaders be on the battlefield, should battle be necessary, is the idea that leaders should have this capacity–an idea that seems to me at odds with a feminist perspective.

    And by the way–guns are fun. And hunting is necessary for the sustaining of an ecological balance in many parts of the country (eg those over-run with white-tailed deer).

  3. manaen says:

    I also agree with you for spats, not strategic defense.

    I do wonder, however, about using Helaman’s warriors and their mothers to illustrate your point.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hunting is in no way necessary for an ecological balance. Your home is not overrun with white tailed deer, the white tailed deer’s home is overrun with us.

    I agree guns can sometimes be fun, for some people (I personally hate shooting them, but my husband loves it). But that fun does not need to involve slaughtering God’s creations. Shoot your guns in a range at targets if you must. But try shooting the animals with a camera instead of a gun on your hunting trips…you get the rush, get to be with nature, and have something satisfying to come home with, but no animals die for your entertainment.


  5. Bored in Vernal says:

    tmd’s comment to the contrary, I still believe Christ taught non-violence and the power of love.

    There is no difficulty that enough love will not conquer;
    no disease that enough love will not heal;
    no door that enough love will not open;
    no gulf that enough love will not bridge;
    no wall that enough love will not throw down;
    no sin that enough love will not redeem . . .

    It makes no difference how deeply seated may be the trouble;
    how hopeless the outlook;
    how muddled the tangle;
    how great the mistake.
    A sufficient realization of love will dissolve it all.
    If only you could love enough you would be the happiest and most powerful being in the world . . .

    Emmet Fox

  6. Bored in Vernal says:

    tmd, you are misunderstanding my point. I do not suggest politicians or their families be sent to other countries as a military force, but rather a presence–to put themselves at risk rather than the native peoples, teach ideals and democratic principles, and generally just hang around. (an idealistic, impossible fantasy, I am sure.) But can’t you see all kinds of possibilities in your head?

  7. TMD says:

    BIV: is it because you want it to say non-violence, or because you can show it? As to the power of love, I’m not sure–the bible and book of mormon are full of examples of people rejecting not only the love of their fellow-man, but the divine love itself, being wholly unmoved by it.

    Anonymous: in northeastern states like PA, there are more deer than when William Penn landed. They are not only a suburban problem, though–they are a problem for the forests. You go to the national forests, the (one) wilderness area, etc., you find that the understory–the perhaps future big trees, when spaces in the canopy open up–is essentially non-existent because the deer, desperate because their numbers are above the carrying capacity of the land, eat _all_ of it. In PA, most canopy trees date from the first half of the 20th century (the result of Gifford Pinchot and TR’s forestry replaning programs), and most are kinds that have lifespans (if unimpeded) of about 100 years. If things continue as they are, before long there will not be canopy trees to replace them, which will cause a tremendous destabilization, and possibly a crash, of local ecological systems. This was not a problem during the early 20th century because there were essentially no white tail deer in PA at the time.

  8. TMD says:

    BIV: I’m not at all sure that politicians are really the best influences to be sending about. Even those who do much for the public good are, at the interpersonal level, are not necessarily desireable (FDR, who manipulted and promoted dissention within his inner circle, cheated on his wife constantly, and who could often be, frankly, thuggish in his personal dealings, is a good example of this).

  9. Bored in Vernal says:

    Soooo…are you saying that the boys we send out in the military with guns in their hands are a more desirable influence?

  10. Anonymous says:

    This post strikes me as incredibly naive and idealistic about the intricacies, motivations, and complexities of politics and war. And, quite frankly, incredibly self-indulgent and self righteous.

    Oh, yeah, send politicians with briefcases against people in Darfur who are slaughtering villages and raping women because of an ethnic dispute going back generations. Yeah, that’ll work.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know if this is what BiV meant, but this is what I see as the reason to send politicians to the war torn countries: It’s pretty easy to send “1000 troups” to a dangerous situation when the biggest risk you personally take in doing so is loosing the support of your consituency. When the politicians have to accompany those troops, or when the troops include their children or relatives then they will think much more carefully about how necessary it is to get involved, how to go about it with the least risk, and how to get to the best outcome.

  12. TMD says:

    BIV: Actually, the young men with guns (I think ‘boys’ is rather insulting as you use it) actually are quite likely to be better influences than politicians. They tend to be people of high ideals, altruism, and have strong committment to acting honorably. Indeed, young men in their late teens and early 20’s are psychologically the group most likely to stick by moral and honor codes, once they commit to them, because they tend to reject compromises, often at cost to themselves.

    Starfoxy: The evidence, I would say, is against your contention. The twentieth century wars in which the children of western (i.e., European, North American) leaderships were most apt to be engaged in do not evince any particular pattern of mitigation. Indeed, the one in which the most children of prominent leaders died is often seen as one of the more ‘pig headed’–the first world war. (In Britain, PM Asquith lost two sons, as did a number of other cabinet ministers; TR lost one of his sons; the French, who suffered something like 1.7 milion fatalities in that war, more than the US military has ever suffered in its entire history, saw many of their most prominent leaders’children die. The same was true for the Germans and the Austrians. Yet this is the war that generated the line ‘we died because old men lied’.)

  13. Heather O. says:

    I’m sorry, I actually had to re-read this post to make sure that paragraph about politicians walking the streets of Baghdad and setting up email accounts wasn’t a complete and total joke. How can you possibly be serious? You think people will respond to palm pilots when they often lack the basic necessities of life, like home, clean water, basic medical supplies and treatment, and anything economically viable to sustain any kind of long term financial stability?

    Granted, I’m all for teaching little kids on the playground to not hit, and how to use their words. It’s a good lesson, and a good point. But, I have to say, your “suggestion” for global peace seems a bit, well, ill-conceived, and, like anon said, blatently naive. Plus, “send as many politicians as we have troops?” We don’t have as many politicans as we have troops, a fact that you should be eternally grateful for.

  14. Caroline says:

    Anonymous, and other commenters, please read our comment policy. Though we welcome healthy debate and respectful disagreement, personal attacks are not welcome here. Comments will be deleted if they violate our comment policy.

  15. Deborah says:

    I think two of the hardest Christian principles to practically wrap our minds and hearts around are

    1) Having all things “in common” (a requisite for Zion) and

    2) Turn the other cheek — do good to them who spitefully use you

    It’s easy to come up with a thousand (worthy, sometimes!) caveats about justice and economic health and self-preservation. I don’t know that Cheryl’s advocating the immediate replacement of troops with senators, but she is saying something valuable about the lessons we are teaching our children. I’m not sure what’s the chicken and what’s the egg. I do know that students are great anthropologists, watching the adult world for clues in how to navigate their own.

    By the way, a skilled teacher/administrator/parent really can help students resolve conflicts without violence. Are some students fascinated by violence? Absolutely — see how fast some boys hover around the “Weapons of WWII” book on my history shelf and how they love their weekend paintball game. But I’ve never met a kid who enjoyed experiencing real violence — they don’t want to fear the coming to school, or walking down the street, or facing a father’s drunken rage.

  16. TMD says:

    Deborah: People may not enjoy the effects of violence, but I think it’s wrong to say people don’t enjoy violence itself. Quite to the contrary: successfully engaging in a violent act can produce something of a “high”. One just wishes to avoid being on the losing side… There’s an excellent piece that can be found on the web that really gets at this on an intuitive, informal basis, called “why men love war,” by William Broyles.

    Also, I’m not sure that adults can really do as much as they think. Most “conflicts” are not conflicts as such, but rather are the result of the fact that some people enjoy inflicting pain/etc on others. Thre’s no ‘conflict of interests,’ no dispute to resolve here–it’s rather a matter of keeping one who wants to hurt others from doing it. South Park (the tv show) is a better indication of childhood than most adults will willingly admit.

  17. Deborah says:

    “One just wishes to avoid being on the losing side…” And when violence becomes pervasive, there ceases to be a winning side — and the child who is often the aggressor comes into my office enraged and tearful when the tables inevitably turn; and they too are looking for help with the situation. But truth be told, I have had to deal with surprisingly little physical bullying in my ten years as a teacher and school administrator. It’s the taunting, internet gossip, and exclusion that occupy much more of my time. (And proactive empathetic adults can help there too.)

    But all this aside, we are told this is a Gospel of Peace — something Hinckley has reiterated several times recently. I think we have to grapple with what that means in our own families’ lives. And I don’t think it’s easy. What do we teach our children about war, peace, defending, and forgiving?

    Quick story: Only once have I taught a child with LDS parents. At parent conferences, she said, “I know she’s doing fine academically and socially. But tell me this — is she reaching out to others outside of her circle? Is there anybody she could help include that’s not feeling a part of things?” It was one of the best parent conferences I’ve had — and this young woman (now in college) is a woman of character. With that mom, it’s not surprising.

  18. Tatiana says:

    I have to say that I find this view of the superfluity of violence to be sweet, endearing, idealistic, beautiful, and totally unworkable in most situations where bullying occurs.

    I was taught this, and followed it, for 16 years of my life, during which I was constantly physically, spiritually, and emotionally abused and humiliated day after day. Adults to whom I appealed taught me this lie. That if I ignored it (as they were doing) it would stop. If I turned the other cheek, and responded with love, I would be loved in return. And then they taught me that it was my own fault.

    I believed them, and I continued to be beat up almost daily. Finally one day I snapped. I responded violently, against everything I believed, and the abuse stopped *right then*. I mean, that instant. I was never touched again. People who had brutalized me for months now wanted to be my friend, and held me in esteem.

    In my family, after 36 years of abuse, I finally reacted violently and the abuse stopped right then.

    I am sorry to destroy the beauty of your lie, but it’s simply not true. And furthermore, your pious lie consigns children to years of shameful abuse who could stop it instantly, the very next time it happens, within five minutes, and never have it happen again.

    All I have to say is that I should have done it at age 6 instead of 16. And inside my family, i should have done it at age 4.

    If the child goes and tells an authority figure, the authority figure cannot protect them. They can’t be there all the time. The child is simply setting themselves up for more abuse later on. If instead, the child waits until the bully begins the next episode of the abuse, then quickly and violently escalates, causes severe pain, then breaks it off and leaves, that child will almost certainly never be messed with again, by that bully or any of the others who hear about it.

    So that’s what I tell children who are being abused now. I heartily wish someone had taught me that when I was about 3, or before. I was beat up as a baby, but I probably couldn’t have done much to defend myself before I was 3.

  19. Tatiana says:

    I want to apologize for the vehemence of my last post. I shouldn’t have phrased it that way. I admire your idealism and your optimism. I suppose I must still feel betrayed by the adults in my life who should have done something and didn’t, and I felt that your post was somehow taking their side or encouraging other adults to do just as they did and ignore the problem, pretend it will go away, pretend that it’s less bad than it is, or that their failed suggestions might work, or, in the end, that it’s the abused who are somehow at fault. I think about the little kids who are today in the situation I was in then, and I get angry on their behalf.

    Anyway, I’m sorry for lashing out at you. I know you mean well. It’s just that you’re mistaken, is all.

  20. Bored in Vernal says:

    Thank you all for your many points of view. I think I will continue to try to hold on to my idealism. I wish I had more of it. It’s the better part of me. I keep thinking of this, and how much it touched me, and how much I wish I could improve in reacting to hurt with love and gentleness.
    That said, I wish I hadn’t come across as pious. I hate pious.

  21. David says:

    Bored in Vernal,

    I admire your aspirations, but have one question. What would you have suggested we do after Pearl Harbor, and when the Nazis started invading other European countries? Surely you don’t think that could have been solved without conflict? Or do you?

  22. jana says:

    I appreciate what you’ve said here and I think it’s really important to this discussion. My response would be that those who were violent towards you were, themselves, schooled in a culture of violence. To me this shows the endless ways in which violence begets violence.

    And let me add that I am so sorry that the adults in your life were unable to protect you from what happened in your young years. (cyberhugs winging their way to you right now)

    Although I am against violence, I believe in being proactive, in speaking truth to power, in standing up for oneself and one’s beliefs. I think you are right that a passive acceptance of brutality will not necessarily stop violence. However, there are ways of empowering victims and ending cycles of violence that don’t include violent retaliation.

    For more reading on this topic, let me suggest this article , especially the links that follow at the end.

  23. Caroline says:

    I admire and share much of your idealism. When it comes to kids picking on kids, I am with you 100%. First talk about it to parents, teachers, etc. and try to come up with a non-violent resolution. As a last case scenario, when all other options have been exhausted, I could imagine not opposing a physical self-defense. But I would be so fearful that that would just escalate the violence and make the bully even more aggressive.

    I think the “turn the other cheek” idea is really compelling. And problematic in abuse situations, as Tatiana mentioned. One thing that I like thinking of regarding this is Eugene England’s essay, called, I believe, Prince of Peace. In this essay he talks about how turning the other cheek was at Jesus’ time not a totally passive acceptance of abuse. Rather it was a passive aggressive move. Like, “hey you hit this cheek, come on, hit the other.” It was actually a bit of a mental slap in the face to present that other cheek.

  24. David says:

    In my experience, playground violence never escalates unless the person being picked on doesnt stand up for themselves.

    In a playground fight, everyone gets hurt. Even if a kid stands up for himself and loses, the winner still gets hit. No one likes to get hit.

    As Tatiana said, if you fight back, they leave you alone. Its sad but true, but thats the way it is

  25. sea says:

    I reject the idea that Americans enter war easily.

    We are not Yugoslavia. We have not been torn apart by Civil Wars for generations. We are not the Jews and the Palestines. In fact, there are many many times when we have been asked to enter into war to come help people, and we have chosen not to.

    People get mad when we don’t go, “we need to help those dying people!” and they get mad when we do go “We should stay out of it and not go to war and promote violence.”

    Basically, war is hugely complex, and we did not go into WWII because FDR got into childhood squabbles, and we aren’t in Iraq because Bush played with squirt guns.

    Negotiations work best when one person is afraid of what will happen if they don’t negotiate.
    Tell the bullies to stop. Why should they? Or else what?

    Also, I reject the analogy of the playground to war. When nations come together, there is no “teacher” to go tell. “Saddam’s being mean!” “Ok, I’ll make him come inside and write 50 lines on the chalkboard.” People try to set up “teachers” (i.e. the World Court) but they have no real authority if the country being censured chooses not to recognize their authority. We owe the World Bank tons of money? Fine, let them come and get it, we ain’t going to pay!!

  26. Anonymous says:

    I think Jana makes a really good point when she said: “My response would be that those who were violent towards you were, themselves, schooled in a culture of violence.” It made me think of the various disfunctional ways that kids learn to express emotions. When you’ve got a bully from an abusive home where ‘love’ means a punch in the gut how do you respond to the kid when they hit you?

    I’m sure there are endless stories of kids who were bullied and dealt with it successfully (or unsuccessfully) in one way or another, either by responding in kind or with non-aggression. To me this means there is no blanket answer to dealing with bullies, because there is no blanket reason why kids bully each other in the first place.

    The best thing to do is to teach, and try to live, the ideal of peace, and love while having a willingness to deal with each situation individually. Kids should seek the help of adults, and adults should not abuse the trust of children by ignoring their needs and brushing off their problems.

  27. AmyB says:

    This has been an interesting discussion to follow. War, school violence, abuse . . .these are such complex issues. I wish there were more clear cut solutions. I find that all I can do is try my best to treat others with kindness and respect, and hope that a small ripple effect will make some minute difference.

  28. greenfrog says:

    Bored in Vernal,

    I can’t think of anyone I’d rather live next door to.

    I share your faith — I don’t call it idealism, because such labels mean that we don’t really believe that they can ever work in the “real” world.

    I’ve been impressed recently with how much we glorify violence, when it really demonstrates nothing so much as a lack of creative thinking and commitment to finding nonviolent alternatives.

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  30. Wes says:

    Interesting that you use Helaman’s Warriors as an example in your post against violence, even in self defense. Also, Jesus taught to turn the other cheek, but he didn’t say it would help bring peace. After all, He was crucified. And last of all, I believe in using good judgment in all things. The scriptures are not one sided on this issue. In some cases the scriptures call for turning the other cheek etc. In other cases they call for defending your families and going to war. I think it is obviously clear that there are instances when peacemaking is appropriate and other instances when self defense or self preservation is appropriate (my comment has nothing to do with Iraq). I believe it is wrong to think we can always get others to do what we want them to because we have more guns. And I also believe it is wrong to think that turning the other cheek is always appropriate. The scriptures do not support such one sided philosophies.

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  1. February 24, 2016

    […] “Guest Post: Fighting at School and Abroad” by Cheryl Bruno aka Bored in Vernal: This piece opens with, “As the Christmas season progresses, some liberals have been asking why Americans tend to get involved in war so easily. Yesterday the answer became very clear to me: we teach our little ones to fight…” […]

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