Saturday, 19 July 2014


Michael is cleaning. He showed me a dustpan full of so much dog hair that you could easily make a small dog from it. It's from Molly, who is half Old English Sheepdog, and resembles a Bearded Collie more than anything.

"I only did this yesterday!"

"Welcome to my world."

"Mom, this is ridiculous, that dog sheds constantly!"

"I know, I'll never get another shaggy dog, my mother warned me about them you know...."

"Why didn't you listen to her?"

"Well, she wasn't always right."

"No, just most of the time. Like you."

And he laughed.

Michael is my youngest and will be 18 next month, so I can pretty much say my kids are all grown up now. Whoever they are is who they are. Any damage is already done, and equally any advice I ever gave that was good advice is already ingrained. Clearly Michael has decided I give good advice. I do try.

It would be great if all mothers always gave good advice. If we always got it right. If we never erred, never failed, never regretted anything. Of course life isn't like that. Besides, all kids are different so you could treat them identically and get different results. We just try our best and then hope for the best.

The proof is in the pudding, and I like the people my kids have turned into. They are all different, and they are all fun. I think (I hope) that they are all people who will be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, and at the very least do no great harm.

I will take some of the credit in their successes, just as I take some of the blame for their faults. You can't have it one way and not the other.

Needless to say, I am very interested in how this all plays out in the next generation, and my eldest grandson, who is 7, is starting to be aware of the more serious aspects of life, and he has questions.

So, Rhiannon found herself one evening in the week in a long and deep discussion with him, when he asked:

"Why do people start wars?"

That's not an easy question to answer. There are many reasons wars begin, and some of them don't really make an awful lot of sense. Politics, religion, ethnicity, money, land, madness, and just plain old ego, all play their part. Plus, much of the time the catalyst is not obvious. One thing leads to another, and if you examine the steps that lead up to the beginning of conflicts or the declaration of war, you can't always see it coming.

Somebody, somewhere decides conflict is a good idea. Perhaps it's the only solution they see to the problem. Frustrated with negotiations that go nowhere, feeling oppressed and otherwise helpless they resort to not just violence, but indiscriminate violence with no thought as to who is harmed. Perhaps they intend it to stay small, local, and short-lived, but whatever happens, human lives become secondary to the cause and anyone on the wrong side is the enemy, and this is justification to kill them.

When you are genuinely oppressed, when your welfare and safety is compromised to such an extent that conflict is the only solution, when you have nothing left to lose, perhaps, sometimes, it makes some sort of sense.

But how often is that the real reason?

Consider any conflict you like, and look at the grievance behind it. Not what is happening now, but where it began. You may have to go back a long way.

Not only that, how many opportunities were there along that path for those responsible to decide otherwise. How many times, in fact, was conflict a choice of convenience or glory rather than a genuine solution. How many times was it for the personal gain of a few powerful people rather than to liberate oppressed masses. How many times was a stated grievance an excuse, a cover, for the agitation and influence of those who stood to benefit from the conflict.

I did not write this to discuss any specific conflict, but to beg my readers to consider these points when reading about or discussing any conflict.

It is not easy explaining to a child why people start wars, especially because we don't really know the answer.

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