|For many years the Children's Art Foundation, publisher of Stone Soup, collected children's art from around the world. We started the collecting in 1977. One of the first gifts we received were a set of linoleum prints from Greek Cypriot children who had been caught up in the 1984 war with Turkey.|
In June, 1991, I went to visit a friend in Maribor, Yugoslavia. I arrived at the border in a train from Paris. It was the day the war of independence between Slovenia and Yugoslavia began. I had come to see a friend to collect mushrooms. I had called my friend Anton from a phone booth in Paris to confirm my arrival the next day. He had said, "come!" But, when I actually showed up the next day, which turned out to be the second day of the war, he was amazed. It turned out that he had thought I was making a joke!
When the first air raid siren went off and everyone in our apartment building went down to the basement to hide I experienced the feeling of helplessness that all civilians must feel in wars. It is the feeling of the girl in the print who is screaming as the bombs drop. What can you do? There is nothing to do but wait to see what is going to happen to you. It is the most horrible feeling. You can't really hide. You can't really run. If the bombs drop where you are, they will find you.
The basement of our apartment was a half-basement. We were not even fully underground. There were windows high up. We sheltered in a storage room with the bikes and gardening tools. In the half-light of those small high windows, as the sirens wailed, we stood there together, silent, just waiting for the explosions. The apartment was a few blocks away from a big communications center that would be an obvious target in a war. I fully expected to die in that room. What ran through my head in a loop was this sentence: "How stupid to die in someone else's war."
As it turned out, the Yugoslav air force didn’t bomb us. After only ten days, the Yugoslav government decided to retreat from Slovenia and it became an independent country. The war moved on to what had been other parts of Yugoslavia where it then raged for years.
None of us are going to be able to end war. But I do think that if we can give voice to children who have survived wars, that might at least make people think a little longer before they send bombers to destroy our homes with us in them.
My daughter is in sixth grade and at her school they practice drills for what to do if there is a shooter in the school. I am sure most of you have heard about the killings at a school in Florida last week. One of the more eloquent statements after the shooting by one of the high school students who survived was this question: "Why do we deserve this?"
It is a haunting question. It is one that everyone in a war must have thought at one point or another. And we can ask that on behalf of the frightened girl in the linoleum print by Frosoula. Why did she deserve to be running from jet planes dropping bombs?