I visited a historic battleground monument and museum today. As usual, I was quite bored. As my 2 year old took a break in a hand-carved wooden chair, laid against a well-maintained marble wall, I breathed a sigh of relief that I didn’t have to pretend to look at all the war memorabilia, at least for a little while. As she started to squirm indicating the break was over, I said to her, “Well, are you ready to look at more old, white dudes?”
An over-simplification, to say the least, but a fairly accurate generalization (there were a few photos of white women hidden among the displays as well). As we gazed at the guns and swords and rifles and pistols and military uniforms, my 2 year old asked what they were and it was difficult for me to give her a clear, but appropriate answer. “These are weapons to kill other humans” was accurate but a little much for a 2 year old (and even for me). So I simply told her this was a ‘sword’ or ‘rifle.’
Even that felt a little wrong to me. I want to shield her from the violence that we humans commit against one another or the fact that we’ve created machines to perfect it. I don’t let her watch something so violent on television so why would I show her this shrine of violent instruments?
As we continued on, it became apparent that the museum was severely lacking in color. As in people of color. There were no indigenous people or African-Americans in this war of the Americas according to the museum’s display (although they surely had been there). No, the largest and most prominent displays were of old, white men and their weapons.
The old, white men and their weapons. That seems to be all I hear about these days. And I wonder if perhaps these shrines to violence that we’ve built all over this country don’t contribute a small part to all that is going on today. There are towering monuments to war and the heroes that fought them. There are entire museums that document the wars and their weaponry in great detail. Even my history classes in junior high and high school talked mostly about ‘the great wars.’
I understand that wars are huge, world-altering events that take many, many lives and those lives must not be forgotten. And I understand that, sometimes, we must fight for justice and what we believe in. But I wonder if we were to build more statues and monuments of peace and less of war, if things might be a little different. If we had more museums of peace and fashion and science and food and love instead of war, if things might be a little different.
I wonder how different the world might be if my 2 year old and every 2 year old were able to go to a museum of kindness today and be shown the great acts of kindness that humans are capable of. I wonder if things might be just a little bit different and a whole lot better.