by Matthew Floro
Although I never was allowed to have a toy gun of my own, toy soldiers cluttered my room, and my feet would hurt from stepping on them. In my school days, my binders were filled with drawn pictures of whole platoons of stick-figured GIs ready for battle. My assignments would be filled with pictures of tanks, guns, and airplanes. I loved to mull over war history books to look at World War II photos. The camaraderie and pomp of these military pictures left me mesmerized; the glimmer of rifle barrels and armored tanks always sparked my imagination. For a boy of eight the business of fight and glory of a soldier on a battlefield filled the depths of my sub consciousness. When I grew up I wanted to be a soldier.
My mother soon noticed this. She was used to seeing me hunched in a corner of the house with a whole array of fierce battle clashes with toy tanks and jeeps that jumbled into confusion. She saw how often these games of war absorbed me for hours and sought to intervene. With her motherly heart she would come to me and address me with the same words, “you know, war isn’t just all fun and games…many people die in wars.” Although I heard it over and over again, it never really hit home. Little did I know what the face of war really looked like.
One Sunday evening, my dad returned from work with a rental movie in hand. Although I naturally looked forward to our family movie nights, I would often be disappointed at the fact that Dad would never let us watch anything over the rating of PG-13. This night was different. In his hand was the 2001 blockbuster film, Black Hawk Down. This was the first war movie I had ever watched as a kid. From then on, the perception of war I that I always had would change forever. It horrified me. Never before had I seen what I found in that movie. The shock of war presented itself to me for the first time. Death, destruction, desolation, and blood…these grim images entered into my mind, and along with it a new attitude. The toy soldiers almost lost their magic. No longer did I dare want to send these little heroes to uncertain and untimely deaths. The attitude I once had towards my old toys slowly began to change; I began to pity them. From then on, the plastic man with the plastic rifle now seemed to be more than just a mere number among many, more than a piece of plastic with the sole purpose of the enjoyment of a little boy. Maybe this man had a life, with a beautiful family, with dreams, hopes, fears, and expectations. Each little toy soldier contained a whole world that characterizes every human life.
For the first time the dignity of the human person had revealed itself to me so directly. I continued to play with my toys, but inside I knew that from then on that war entailed something more than just child’s play: it became a lesson for me about the value of a life. Even at an early age, this is a reality that I could have easily taken for granted. Although war may captivate and enliven a boy’s world, sooner or later he will have to face a shocking reality: war is more than just fun and games.
Photo by J. Corey Butler