War Games

I consider my grandfather one of my peace heroes (see The Unknown Soldier). He sacrificed everything rather than betray his conscience. During World War II, he served in CPS (Civilian Public Service) as an alternative to joining the military. During the four years of the war he only returned home on brief furloughs. My dad who was born in 1943 was afraid of this stranger when he saw him on these rare visits. Grandpa’s baby brother, Art, died in an accident, one of several deaths that occurred to those who served in CPS. This incident in particular scarred Grandpa for life. While working in CPS, Grandpa hurt his back and as a result, suffered from back problems throughout his life. When the war was over, Grandpa was called yellow and labeled a coward by coworkers at the factory where he worked.

Yet this same grandfather, when I was a teenager, made rubberband guns for my cousins and I to play war. Perhaps he just wanted us to stop using his wooden window props as machine guns. I know he regretted it later and banned those types of games around the house. If my memory is correct, he stopped making and repairing the guns and we found more peaceful things to make in Grandpa’s shop like a chess game and later, wood inlay. Rather than shooting each other, we played Eggs In The Bush, UNO (or “Bluno!” as Grandpa shouted out once), and Boggle to name a few.

So the question I ask is; why did my pacifistic Mennonite grandfather whose entire life was molded by his years as a CO, make guns for his grandchildren to play war?

Parents and grandparents want to make their children and grandchildren happy. Often it is easier to say yes to a questionable request. The rubberband guns were well-made, forged by Grandpa’s skilled carpenter’s hands. But my grandfather did realize that he may have opened up a can of worms and he did make a decision to no longer make us guns or allow us to play such games at his house.

The gift of reflection means that we can look at our past actions and make a change if need be. In this day and age, we as peaceloving parents and grandparents are inundated with constant decisions and child requests, some of which may not be a good reflection of the Prince of Peace. Sometimes we will say yes when we should have said no. We should not be afraid to change course and explain to our children why we did so.

Conscientious objection should not be relegated solely to the realm of war. For my grandfather it was a way of life. There were bumps in the roads as he integrated his life with the different worlds of his grandchildren, but he kept returning to his center. “The regenerated do not go to war” and I would add, nor should their children play at it either.

Lifelong learner is a positive idea that gets thrown around a lot. Play Theory suggests that play and games are some of the primary ways that humans learn. This leads to several questions. What are the play and games of our children teaching them? What “education” are we agreeing to when we allow them to play at war or engage in games that present violence as a way to solve problems?

Perhaps we should become more adept at practicing the words of the old song:

“I (and my children) ain’t gonna study war no more.”



  1. This is something that I’ve sat down and thought about many times, trying to remember if I (as a child) played war games at all and I’m sure I did. I would love to know what part of my personality now those games contributed to. It would be interesting wouldn’t it…


    1. I think that is part of the reason why I write what I do – to try and figure out what that part of me is – I know it exists – I have too much rage for it not to be there – so I write to understand and eventually I hope to become more gentle.


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