Our sixth-grade daughter’s class made the “Hiroshima lanterns” late in May when the North Dakota Peace Coalition came to her parochial school. The kids painted the paper sides of the 8″ x 8″ boats with rainbows and flowers and the word “peace,” and made plans to light the candles and set the boats afloat on the Missouri River August 7 as part of a worldwide event. Our daughter was excited: all her friends would be there.

Unable to stop myself, I asked, “What’s the reason for this?”

“No idea,” she replied. “Peace or something.”

“What kind of peace?” “No idea.”

“You mean like no fighting going on anywhere in the world?”

“I guess so.”

“Well, explain to me how these little lanterns will help.”

She thought for a moment. “No idea.”

Here’s what it said on the lantern instructions: “Our yearning for secure peace and our protesting preparations for war find expression in the designs we paint on the paper lantern panels. This is done at home or in groups brought together to make lanterns sometime before August 6th. These feelings are shared and affirmed by bringing the lantern and coming together with family, friends and other lantern makers to reflect on ways to achieve peace, and then carry [sic] the glowing lantern to the river. Floating the lantern away on the river in remembrance of the thousands who died in Hiroshima frees us from our constant repression of the facts and our fear and blind hostility, and empowers us to constructive dialogue and action.”

Give me a break. These 12- and 13-year-olds do many strange things, but they do not suffer from “constant repression” of the bombing of Hiroshima or from “fear and blind hostility” concerning the event. The kids may spend a lot of time “protesting preparations” for cleaning their room, but war never crosses their mind. The Peace Coalition was quite simply using my child and the others, manipulating them for political purposes. It’s obscene. Sixth graders know nothing about the bombing of Hiroshima: not why it happened, or what was lost, or what was gained. World War II doesn’t take up more than half a page in their ridiculous textbooks. The grown-ups just needed some patsys.

The instruction sheet for the “Hiroshima lanterns” also says, disingenuously, that the lanterns are floated each year “to commemorate all of the people who perished from the Hiroshima atomic bomb,” (although a school spokesperson said that the boat wasn’t exactly a Hiroshima memorial but simply a “symbol of unified prayer for peace” that would cover “every major river in the world.”) Mourning the dead is an honorable enterprise, but why the Japanese dead and not ours? Who started that war, anyway? And why not memorialize the dead mujahedin in Afghanistan as well, or the Cambodian dead under Pol Pot?

Because, of course, none of those particular dead would serve the Peace Coalition’s narrow malevolent purpose: US disarmament. It’s not that the poor souls of Hiroshima and Nagasaki died, or even that they died during a war, that makes them lucky enough to be remembered; it’s that they died from an atomic bomb, one way of dying out of an infinite number of others. Yes, they were probably civilians, most of them, and therefore relatively innocent. So are the dozens upon dozens of millions of aborted babies each year in China, the US, and the world, and the millions of peasants dead in the Ukraine from government-controlled famine. But nonatomic deaths aren’t useful to the Peace Coalition.

Would this group’s “constructive dialogue” entertain the notion that the US and much of the world are at peace—and basically because our country is so well-armed? (What better proof that we live in peacetime than that our children know so little about war?) Would it allow knowledgeable estimates of the number of Japanese lives saved by Truman’s dropping the big one? Would it allow that while perhaps children should think about the past, few of them do, and that little wood-and-paper boats aren’t going to do a damned thing to save our lives—if indeed they are in danger? Or that the world has lived virtually without a military nuclear incident for 40 years?

I doubt it. The last thing groups like this want is for their media audiences to become knowledgeable about the past. What they’re after is panic about’ the future—that’s where their big bucks come from—and they won’t get it from those who know there’s nothing new under the sun. These groups love to “dialogue” but can’t stand informed opposition. They encourage “sharing” so long as you’re just sharing feelings—not facts or even opinions—and those feelings are fearful. If you’re self-confident and comfortable with the world, understanding it as a place where no one is guaranteed a long or worry-free life, you’ll spoil their party.

That’s why the Peace Coalition has to hit on kids instead of their parents. Kids panic easily, but more than that they love to party. And once you get a bunch of cute kids down at the river launching their pretty little candlelit boats into the menacing dark, maybe singing a folk hymn or two to the accompaniment of ill-tuned guitars, it’s just a tiny step to say to the ubiquitous media, “See how these children yearn for world peace”—a tiny step, but a gross assumption about kids whose biggest worry is a new facial blemish. And from there it’s just another tiny step to say, “See: these children want our country to disarm” (another unjustified assumption, but it will be said because that’s any Peace Coalition’s goal) and—the clincher—”These are the innocents who will be slaughtered if we keep building bombs.” Close-up of solemn freckled face; never mind that he’s planning how to sneak away to the swimming pool or the video arcade. Trust me: all of this will be said at any gathering of any Peace Coalition. They have peace and don’t want it; what they want, whether they know it or not, is our slavery, and our children’s.

Although it’s impolitic to forbid a teenager to do something, if the subject comes up again we’ll tell our daughter that if she wants to participate, she’ll have to be able to tell us what World War II was all about, and why Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed, and, realistically, what she hopes to accomplish with her lantern. She’ll also have to prove to us that she knows what “manipulation” means, and knows how to prevent it being done to her. And we’ll ask her to research how the Peace Coalition feels about abortion (she thinks it’s terrible) and the gulag (she’s never heard of it), since they claim to care about human life. The way I see it, either way we’ve won—at least until the next time Peace Coalition members glide into her classroom and circle around, smiling and showing their teeth.