Columns » Bob Lancaster

War and desks

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We learned from an article in the daily paper last week what it is that generations of U.S. soldiers have fought and died for. It’s for the right of our boys and girls to go to school, and for their right to sit at desks while they’re at school.

That seemed to be the gist of the thing, and it came as a surprise to me. I think the world of our military, and would’ve thought when they went to give their last full measure that they would’ve had higher and more interesting freedoms in mind than those having to do with dibs on classroom desks.

But apparently not.

This article told of a suburban school teacher hereabout. She devised a classroom “experiment” that involved removing their desks and telling them they’d get the desks back only when they’d earned them back. The freedom to have a school desk isn’t free; like the other great freedoms, it has to be earned; it has to be paid for — and the only legal tender for such debts is the blood of patriots.

It must’ve been hard for the youngsters to make the connection — I’m not sure I’ve got it straight myself — but after considerable perplexity and, one assumes, hunkering, Teach relented and told them they didn’t have to earn the desks back, after all; that the desks had been pre-earned back by America’s combat veterans. They did it by putting their lives on the line to foil tyrants who hate all our precious freedoms, including the ones involving squatters’ rights on schoolroom desks.

The local presidential candidate was said to have been so moved upon hearing of this patriotic exercise that he promised to give it a prominent place in his barnstorm. Maybe he made that promise and maybe he didn’t — sure sounds like him, though.

So anyway, we have American soldiers fighting and dying over desks for unappreciative little back-home ingrates, and who knows? — maybe the experiment did result in a few faint stirrings of gratitude and respect in a few would-be Beavises and Buttheads, at least through the Memorial weekend. A few of the erstwhile punks, taking the lesson to heart, might even have resolved to become respectable cannon fodder when they grow up.

At the very least the experiment gave them something to think about when they’re not thinking about flogging an old bishop or punching each other on the arm or making surreptitious in-class digestive-trouble sounds. The article gave ol’ moi something to think about, too.

For instance, if we’d lost the Vietnam War earlier than we did, before we’d thrown the lives of 58,000 of our young people into its maw, it’s perfectly plausible that Ho Chi Minh would’ve been over here afterward scarecrowing in schoolrooms nationwide, telling young people like my own two children in grade school at the time whether or not they could have desks.

Yep, Sluggo, you get a desk. Nope, Snookums, you don’t. Lots more nopes than yeps, and, Uncle Ho not being omnipresent, some of the schools might’ve had to use cardboard cutouts, with moving mouths like on Conan O’Brien, to announce his desk decisions.

In my own case, if we’d lost World War II, by the time I entered Mrs. Reid’s first-grade class, old Schickelgruber his own bad self surely would’ve zepped over here to designate which lucky ones in my genius class would get desks and which unlucky ones, because our country had lost all desk-claiming rights in losing the war, wouldn’t. The unlucky ones, I’m guessing, would’ve had to go off to some junior concentration camp where everybody had to stand up.

A few grades later, if we’d lost the Cold War, it would’ve been Stalin doing the desk da’s and nyets.

Losing World War I would’ve meant Dirty Kaiser Bill giving my mother and father, then adolescents, the good desk news (“Ja”) or the bad desk news (“Nein”), and probably then imperiously informing them that they’d thereafter be sprechen sie Deutsch.

Desk czar if we’d lost the Spanish-American War would’ve been King Phillip II of Spain, the closest the world has come to having a genuine clinical imbecile as a wartime leader up to but not including the Iraq War. We went him one better there.

We did lose the Civil War — those of us Caucasian and rebellious in this part of the country did — and years passed before our ancestral kin regained the right to attend school, and more passed before they regained full desk rights. They only got desks again, truth be told, because Northern benefactors finally warmed up to Cleveland and turned loose of some they had in storage.

I’m not sure the British, even if they’d won the War of 1812, would’ve cruelly impressed our school desks the way they did our seamen. Good that it didn’t come to that. The Hessian oafs in the Revolutionary War would not only have confiscated all the colonial school desks, they would’ve chopped them up for firewood, that war being fought in the Little Ice Age.

It was to those Hessians, you’ll recall, that Nathan Hale regretted he had but one desk to give for his country.


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