Don’t Mention the Children by Michael Rosen

Collateral damage. Casualties of war. Seen but not heard. Neither seen nor heard. There are none. They don’t exist. They are the cradle of terrorists. Rubble is their toy. Ideas are their weapons. They are not children. They can’t be children. Let us not hear of such things.

stop killing the childrenPropaganda and censorship are the recognised tools of government; whether that government be the so called western liberal kind, or one more akin to North Korea. Of course, they use different methods in the use of these tools but essentially they serve the same purpose of maintaining power, done in the guise of protecting the values, ethos, or way of life of its citizens. Violent conflict is famously said to be an extension of such forms of politics, but by other means.

War is a different beast than it was a hundred years ago; the dead of the First World War were soldiers. Because of the aerial bombardments characteristic of the Second World War there were far more civilians killed. Today’s wars are said to be different than any other because the fight is now between states and non-state actors (aka terrorists/freedom fighters). But what is common in this new form of warfare to the WW2 is the amount of innocent civilians killed. Actors on both sides, whether through suicide bombs, drones, or barrel bombs are indiscriminate in trying to achieve their bloody aim.

michael rosenAnd it is children, who are the most vulnerable civilian casualty of them all. Michael Rosen highlights this tragedy chillingly in his poem Don’t Mention the Children. The poem refers to the banning by the Israeli Broadcasting Authority of an advertisement by the human rights organisation B’Tselem, where it listed the names of the children killed during the bombing in Gaza by Israel. Every country has its right to defend itself; however, it is an issue of proportionality, which lies at the heart of any response. (Bernie Sanders recently challenged Hilary Clinton over this matter, and she refused to condemn the bombing as being disproportionate). So Michael shows how ridiculous this ban was: “The names of the children must be hidden./The children must be nameless./The children must leave this world/having no names.” Only by erasing such acts from history, can they be kept from the world’s view allowing future actions to continue.

Here is Michael reading the poem:

But not only should we mention the children, let us hear what they have to say themselves. Let’s listen to the children. Here is one short account of a nine year old’s experience of the bombing in Gaza in 2014:

Even our apartment has been bombed. The aim is to make us displaced in UN schools and then be a target for tank shells. As you see we had our three shops completely destroyed, but I know fully in my heart that God will compensate us. Till the last day of the war, we remained in our apartment, but when the apartment next door sustained damages, we ran to seek shelter at my grandpa’s place in Shujayea, and there it was bombed again. We ended up going to relatives in the west. There is nowhere safe. Even al-Shifa hospital has been targeted.” (Osama Ejelah, aged 9)

 

Michael Rosen was born in North London in 1946. His parents were both teachers. After university he worked for the BBC on Play School and Schools TV. He currently presents Radio 4’s long-running Word of Mouth. His many awards include the Eleanor Farjeon Award for distinguished services to children’s literature. He is the Chevalier de l’ordre des artes et des lettres and was Children’s Laureate from 2007-9. He is Professor of Children’s Literature at Goldsmith’s, University of London. Don’t Mention the Children is taken from his collection of the same name published by Smokestack Books in 2015.

 

Don’t Mention the Children
‘Israel bans radio advert listing names of children killed in Gaza.’ Guardian, 24 July 2014

Don’t mention the children.
Don’t name the dead children.
The people must not know the names
of the dead children.
The names of the children must be hidden.
The children must be nameless.
The children must leave this world
having no names.
No one must know the names of
the dead children.
No one must say the names of
the dead children.
No one must even think that the children
have names.
People must understand that it would be dangerous
to know the names of the children.
The people must be protected from
knowing the names of the children.
The names of the children could spread
like wildfire.
The people would not be safe if they knew
the names of the children.
Don’t name the dead children.
Don’t remember the dead children.
Don’t think of the dead children.
Don’t say: ‘dead children’.

Published with kind permission of the author.

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