A Story for the Children – I

“See in my line of work, you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.” —George W. Bush to students in Rochester New York on May 24, 2005



by Arthur Silber


The mother tries to calm her two young children. They’ve been in their beds for almost an hour and are still very upset. At school earlier in the day, they heard another rumor about some teenagers who had gone missing in a town several miles away.


“Now, now, we didn’t even know them. And you can’t believe everything you hear. You know the Council has forbidden talk about such things. You shouldn’t listen when other children try to tell you such tales. Besides, even if something did happen to them — and I’m sure it didn’t — they probably had done something very, very bad. That’s why it’s so important for you always to be good children.”

She prides herself on being a good mother, and she tells herself that what she sees in her children’s eyes isn’t terror. “Now, the Council has distributed a news story for you to hear before you go to sleep. Just close your eyes, and I’ll start reading it. We can talk about it at breakfast in the morning.”

She notices the desperate look the children exchange before they close their eyes. She remembers that until a few years before, the children had sought comfort from her. They don’t do that now; they seek reassurance only from each other, and they’ve begun to shrink from her touch. But the Council Subcommittee on Education tells her this is another proof of how well she’s raising her children. They are learning to rely on themselves, and they’re learning how to be hard and unfeeling. In a world where weakness of any kind is the worst sin of all, being tough is the primary virtue.

The mother begins reading. Her tones are soft and expressionless, as gentle as the rain falling outside as darkness gathers. Over several years, she has conscientiously eliminated any trace of emotion from her voice whenever she speaks to the children. She hasn’t noticed that she never expresses any emotion to anyone now, young or old. And there is no one to tell her of the change, for everyone else is doing the same.

There is only one exception to the requirement that no one show any intense emotion: they are all encouraged to express anger and rage, but only at those the Council has designated as enemies.

Then, anger and rage are not just encouraged: they are required. The greatest anger and rage is reserved for those enemies who had appeared to be friends.

“The Good Ogre administration’s decision,” the milky smooth voice begins, “to authorize the killing by the Secret Signal Agency of a child suspect who is a citizen of Ogre City has set off a debate over the legal and political limits of mystery weapon strikes, a mainstay of the campaign against child terrorism.”

The mother pauses and looks out the window. She sees the stars beginning to appear as the clouds disperse. She hears the breeze in the trees. It’s all the same, she thinks. Nothing’s changed. The world appears just as it always did. For a brief moment, she remembers similar stories from a few years before, when they concerned adults. As it turned out, there were very few adult terrorists.

Those who had thought of protesting against what they considered to be the monstrousness of the new policies — although they weren’t actually new at all, they were only practiced openly now — learned the lesson quickly enough.

If they did protest, they would immediately disappear. Besides, almost no one objected, and almost no one wanted anyone else to object. It was easier just to go along. Finally, that’s what everyone did, if they were adults.


For reasons no one understood, some children continued to resist. A few people talked about the indomitability and the resilience of “the human spirit,” but they didn’t talk about it for long. Besides, that kind of pseudo-poetic garbage was a sure sign that someone was a terrorist or at least a terrorist sympathizer. The Good Ogre and his designated agents might talk about “the human spirit” once in a while, but only insofar as that spirit was devoted to eliminating the Ogre’s enemies.

To the extent the mother allows herself to be aware of the terror in her children’s eyes, she knows that it reveals their failure to accept fully the Good Ogre regime. This is a sign of great danger. She wants her children to be safe and to remain alive. Isn’t that what every parent wants? When the children’s eyes are as expressionless as hers, they will be safe. We make ourselves dead, so that we may remain alive. An infinitesimal flicker at the corner of her mouth indicates the beginning of a bitter smile. Once, the mother thinks, I would have appreciated the horrifying irony of that idea. She stops the thought, and the flicker disappears. She continues reading.

“The notion that the Ogre council can, in effect, execute one of its own citizens far from a combat zone, with no judicial process and based on secret intelligence, makes some legal authorities deeply uneasy.”

The use of “in effect” is a nice touch, the mother muses. As if the Ogre isn’t actually ordering the death of one of his own citizens, not really. Except that he is. And if he can order the death of one of them, without any judicial process or evidence, he can order the death of any of them, even of a vast number of them. Stop it, she orders herself.

The mother has read the supplement to this story distributed by the Ogre Council. Tomorrow morning, she will point out to the children how this story demonstrates the openness and freedom of the new regime. “Some legal authorities” are “deeply uneasy.”

You see, children? she will say to them. A few people — a few very bad people — say that you cannot challenge the Ogre. But that’s obviously not true. People do challenge him, and their objections are even printed in the official Ogre paper.

Next: A Story for the Children – II

Source: Once upon a time…



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