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Being Taught to Hate Works Well

I felt a twinge of hatred on Saturday. Pure. Unadulterated. And well-aged. It had been instilled in me when I was five years old—seventy-nine years ago.

Imagine that. Blindsided at age 84 on a summer outing in coastal Maine. All it took was one glimpse of that accursed symbol.

Standing beside some other spectators at the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum’s annual “Wings and Wheels” aerial exhibition, I heard the engines of the World War II fighter planes fire up behind us and begin taxiing into view. I was anticipating the Mustangs, Spitfires, P-38s. But the first one to appear was a Japanese “Zero” fighter plane, with that big red circle emblazoned on its fuselage.

And I instantly felt that twinge of hate.

All during World War II, I was steeped in hatred for the “Japs” and the “Krauts”. How steeped? By first grade, I could recite the precise specifications of every aircraft that fought in the skies. My parents smoked “Wings” cigarettes, a popular brand that included a card in every package bearing a photo of a fighter plane on one side and all the information about it on the other—size, horsepower, speed, service ceiling, agility, armaments, munitions. I collected them. I memorized them.

In the airshow, a thunderous P-51 Mustang swooped low right over us. The young couple standing next to me wondered aloud how fast it could go. I surmised, “About 450, I think.” Not satisfied with my guesstimate, I then Googled it on the spot. The answer is 437. Seventy-nine years later, off by 13MPH.

How is it possible that seventy-nine years later, I could also still be jolted by a five-year-old’s hatred. Little Eliot wanted to see the enemy planes burst into flames and crash, killing the pilot. Sometimes at a Saturday movie, the wartime “newsreel” would gratify me with films of just such a sight. And after I learned that Bobby, the teenage boy next door who bought me ice cream cones, had been killed in the war, my glee at such carnage knew no bounds.

We’ve long known that early impressions last forever, to some degree or another. I shudder when seeing very young children taken by their parents to aggressive political protests and rallies, irrespective of party and position. And nothing will ever equal those parents who, in a spasm of misguided quasi-religious zeal, used their young children to carry homophobic posters at Fred Rogers’ memorial service.

My hope, my plea, today is that we might all become ever more aware of the unintended consequences of infecting young children with antagonistic feelings toward any other human beings. Let us be hyper-vigilant about how we express ourselves, in word and action. We do have positive models we can lift up for them.

Teach the young about our post-World War II reconstruction of our enemies’ lands and economies. Question the endless hours they spend slaughtering bad guys on video games. Call attention to the touching embraces between victorious and vanquished athletes at the recently concluded Olympics, and other daily sporting events. Our celebrating feelings and images of fellowship may inspire today’s children to live out the love for which everyone yearns.

And if you need further encouragement, consider the cautionary wisdom of Rodgers and Hammerstein in these lyrics from “South Pacific”:

You’ve got to be taught

To hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught

From year to year.

It’s got to be drummed

In your dear little ear.

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught

To be afraid

Of people whose eyes

Are oddly made

And people whose skin

Is a different shade.

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught

Before it’s too late,

Before you are six

Or seven or eight,

To hate all the people

Your relatives hate.

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

“Before you are six or seven or eight…” Yes. I was five.

You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught lyrics © Williamson Music

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