Sunday July 12, 2009
Monsters in our minds
Tots To Teens by DAPHNE LEE
I LOVE the video for Paul McCartney’s 1983 song, Pipes of Peace (from the album of the same name). The video depicts the famous 1914 Christmas truce between British and German troops.
McCartney plays both British and German platoon leaders who, while their men play football, “chat” and show one another family photographs. A shell blast breaks up the game and forces the two groups to return to their own trenches.
The video ends with both leaders realising that they have each left pictures of their family with the other. Call me sentimental, but this last scene always makes me bawl.
The Enemy: A Book About Peace (Schwartz & Wade Books, 32 pages, ISBN: 978-0375845000) by David Calli, illustrated by Serge Bloch, made me immediately think of Pipes of Peace although there are no heartwarming scenes in the picture book.
The video was about the simple similarities shared between “enemies” – football, family, a deep desire for peace, which would allow them to be united with their loved ones and once again indulge freely and without reservations or restrictions in simple play.
In The Enemy, two soldiers sit in their respective trenches, each picturing the other as a cruel monster: “the enemy and I have nothing in common. He is a wild beast. He does not know mercy. I know this because I read it in my manual.”
On the facing page, Bloch presents a scene of utter devastation – corpses of animals and humans lie strewn and bloody while a gun-toting figure with a forked tail walks away.
Bloch’s illustrations are very simple line drawings with minimal touches of colour that emphasise the loneliness of the soldiers, their empty lives and bleak future (“Maybe the war is over and no one remembered to tell us. Or maybe the world does not exist anymore.”).
The soldiers eventually creep into one another’s trench and is shocked at what they discover – family photographs (“I wasn’t expecting him to have a family.”) and a “manual just like mine. But there is a difference: in this one, the enemy has my face.”
The culture of war is one of suspicion, fear and hate, including the demonisation and dehumanisation of the unfamiliar.
But ignorance encourages paranoia, allows lies to go unchallenged and prejudice to fester in any situation, even in states of peace and prosperity.
This is shown in Armin Greder’s The Island (Allen & Unwin, 32 pages, ISBN: 978-1741752663), a picture book about how the inhabitants of an island are driven, by fear, to treat a stranger with cruelty.
Although they want for nothing, the islanders are reluctant to share what they have with the stranger.
They confine him to a secluded goat pen and give him barely enough food to survive – simply because he is “not like them”.
When, driven by hunger, the stranger escapes his prison and tries to ask for more provisions, the islanders put him out to sea in a rickety raft.
They justify their harsh actions by saying that it’s for the safety of the island, and proceed to turn their home into a fortress.
The dark, charcoal illustrations create a grim, foreboding atmosphere and emphasise the stranger’s bleak future at the hands of the islanders.
Greder further hints at the stranger’s isolation by depicting him as solitary, thin and naked, while the well-padded, warmly dressed islanders are always shown in a group.
This story raises questions about the treatment of and attitude towards foreigners, especially immigrants and refugees, and can be used as a powerful introduction to this topic.
Like The Enemy it invites (forces, some might say) readers to explore how ignorance, fear and the herd mentality can result in violent and unfair behaviour, turning us all into the very monsters we imagine we’re protecting ourselves from.
Daphne Lee reads to wonder and wander, be amazed and amused, horrified and heartened and inspired and comforted. She wishes more people will try it too. Send e-mails to the above address and check out her blog at daphne.blogs.com/books.