No one needs to be told what is on everyone's mind these days. The war in the Middle East takes precedence over everything. And of course, Howard County is no exception. This crisis makes all of the county's day-to-day concerns seem trivial and unimportant by comparison. Of course, I've always felt that way about some of the nonsense that goes on around here, and I'll get back to that again at a more appropriate time.

The war has permeated life at all levels. Nowhere can it be more evident than with our children. Usually kids don't appear to get all that involved in the things we as adults have concerns about.For example, when I was a little kid, the Army-McCarthy hearings were going on to ferret out all the alleged communists in government that Sen. Joe McCarthy imagined and were televised daily. All I recall thinking about was that I was angry there were all these guys talking when I should have been watching Howdy Doody.

The children know there is a war going on and where it is. For myson and his first-grade classmates, the war is made more real, because they have a connection with real people they know of that are involved with this conflict. With the help of their teacher, Sharon Giorgio, they have two people, so far, that they have written to in the gulf area. One is Mrs. Giorgio's nephew, Brian Gillis, who is a Marine PFC stationed in the desert of Saudi Arabia. The other is our nephew and our son James' cousin, John Fedorowicz, who is a lieutenant in the Navy, assigned to the USS Theodore Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier stationed in the Red Sea.

As I've been told, these letters mean a great deal to our people over there. They're very important to them, acontact with home and to the rest of the world out there. I've heardstories of soldiers so desperate to hear from someone, anyone, back home, that they would ask to read their friends' mail and pretend it was written to them.

Hopefully, Mrs. Giorgio's class will get a response soon from their two new friends in the Middle East, so they can get answers to what it is like for them over there. To see the level at which the war has affected our children -- just listen to them. For example, here we have first-graders, 6 and 7 years old, knowing what Scuds, Patriots, F-15's, carpet bombing and other such war terminology mean. They know where Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Israel are. When I was teaching middle school, we had students who weren't surewhere Maryland was in relation to other states in our own country. When I was watching CNN one night, my son recognized the sound of an air raid siren.

I also wonder what effect listening to the adults around them discussing the war will have on our children.

Hearing such things as "Nuke Iraq," "Flatten Baghdad," "Kill those filthy Iraqis," or reveling over bombings, will further reinforce the ideas thatthe only way to settle problems is by violence. Just listen around you. There sure seems to be an air of just plain bloodthirstiness about. As President Bush said in so many words, we don't have a problem with the Iraqi people, just the despicable Saddam Hussein, who keeps his people terrified of him. So why do we dehumanize all Iraqis, reducing them to video game targets? We need to be careful what we say around our young, impressionable kids, so that we don't raise a generation with a "bomb them back to the Stone Age" mentality that can spill over to how they disagree with someone at home or abroad. We need to appreciate military successes, but we don't need to exhibit joy over the destruction of human beings. The cost of war is horrible to both victors and vanquished. We need to lose this "game" attitude of war -- it's not like football.

It really hits home when you see how even the smallest children are affected by the war. We wonder what is isgoing to do to them if and when a ground war comes and casualties escalate, and they are exposed to more graphic scenes of the destruction of war.

It has happened before, back in the '60s when kids watched the Vietnam War unfold in front of them on TV at dinner time. WhenI was in the first three grades of elementary school, back in the early '50s, I remember the air raid drill and A-bomb drills. We pulled down the shades of the classroom, crouched on the cloakroom floor, put our heads between our legs and waited for the all-clear signal. I remember being unsettled by these drills.

We can hope that the children today will not be traumatized by these unsettling times. We all hope that the war will be over as soon as possible, and that our kidscan go back to being kids again and concerned with kid things like those aggressive turtles and not Saddam Hussein. And hope, too, that we adults here can go back to complaining about public officials, growth management and the other "important" things people get so upset about with daily life in Howard County. Wouldn't it be nice for everything to get back to "normal" again and we wouldn't have to think of BDA (Bomb Damage Assessments), MRE (Meals Ready-to-Eat), sorties, Scuds, daily briefings or special reports coming at us at any time?

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