Iâm talking to a Topanga child, about five years old. He is fleet of foot and fearless. He has amazing physical abilities; running, jumping, turning somersaults, battling the bad guys, and always winning at Duck, Duck Goose, (yes, they still play that). When I saw him wearing a white Nike sport shirt with the collar turned up I saw clearly his future as a professional tennis player or, because all the other children follow his lead and the sheen of his golden hair, perhaps a career in politics. Oh, and in addition to English he also speaks French.
While weâre sitting on the floor at Childrenâs Corner, building a robot with magnetic colored plastic shapes, he asks me, pondering the question deeply, âDo you know if Mysterio is a bad guy, you know whatâs it called, a villain, to Spiderman and Batman, too?â
I must admit to ignorance in the area of Mysterio, heâs a mystery to me, yet I attempted to offer up something, anything, being flattered the boy thought I might actually know the answer.
âWell, you knowâŚI used to watch a television show about Batman.â I donât mention that it was 50 years ago. âIâm pretty sure Batman had a bunch of villains after him. Letâs see, there was the Joker and the Riddler andâŚâ
He interrupts me, âYeah, the Joker! Thatâs right.â
I continue, on a roll, âYes, and whoâs that other one? I know, I knowâŚ, of course, the Penguin, Burgess played him.â
âWhoâs Burgee?â he asks.
âBurgess. Heâs an actor, sometimes a bit over the top, but one of my favorites, he and Orson Bean. Oh, and there was this other villain, Cat Woman.â
âWas she a real cat?â
âNo, a woman who dressed as a cat.â
He thinks it over, âDid she have a tail?â
âYes, she had a tail and claws I think.â
Then the boy mentions some movie or show or video Iâve never heard of and explains, âThereâs a white tiger in it, a scary white tiger, but Iâm not scared of it.â
And I know heâs not.
In an attempt to keep current, I actually research Mysterio. It seems he was a former special effects artist on the decline, perhaps he couldnât keep up with evolving technology; I know the feeling. Then he turned actor but that didnât go so well either. Nothing like being a failed actor to turn one to villainy, supervillainy at that. However, although a supervillain, he possesses no superpowers. Thatâs gotta be tough. You kind of feel sorry for the guy. In answer to my young friendâs question, no, he was not a nemesis of Batman.
I look at these children, young in the spring of 2022, who will come of age in a year I may never see, but for now they know my name. Theyâre running and playing, satin capes flying behind them and beginning to wish themselves more powerful, stronger, dinosaur strong, or enhanced with superhero skills, able to defy the white tiger, to walk across hot lava, to fly or fight. And of course, itâs the fight wherein lies the rub.
âWhat if they gave a war and nobody came?â
It was a popular slogan from the â60s, back when we were going to save the world, appearing on posters and tee shirts and buttons. It seemed poignant and pithy. Supposedly it originated in a 1936 poem by Carl Sandberg, âThe People, Yes.â He reports a little girl said it while standing next to him watching a military parade.
The first world war came and its cost was laid on the people.
The second world warâthe thirdâwhat will the cost be?
And will it repay the people for what they pay?
The little girl saw her first troop parade and asked,
âWhat are those?â
âWhat are soldiers?â
âThey are for war and each tries to kill as many of the other side as he can.â
The girl held still and studied.
âDo you knowâŚâŚâŚI know something?â
âYes, what is it you know?â
âSometime theyâll give a war and nobody will come.â
Over the years the wording changed, appearing as â(Suppose) they gave a war and nobody cameâ in a letter written to the editor of the Washington Post by James Newman. In 1966, author, poet, and mother of an anti-war activist, Charlotte E. Keyes, in McCallâs magazine, penned, âSuppose they gave a war and (no one) came?â which also was the title of a 1970 movie. In a song written by composer Jenna Gault in 1968, it morphed to, â(What) if they gave a war and no one came?â Even Alan Ginsberg got in on the act (of course he does and bless him for it) with his poem, âGraffiti,â in which he includes an answer to the question.
What if someone gave a war & nobody came?
Life would ring the bells of Ecstasy and Forever be itself again.
But no matter the juxtaposing words, the message remains noble, seemingly impossibly noble, akin to the lofty, âPeace on Earth Good Will to Menâ (which must also include women). Early on, before the Russians invaded Ukraine but looked as if on the verge of so doing, a down-to-earth, yet patrician friend mused, âIf the war happens, I think both sides should just lay down their weapons, leave their tanks, land their planes and walk away.â
Her words have stayed with me, that hopelessly, ridiculous, naĂŻve, unfeasible, splendid, magnificent, courageous image of humans walking away from war. That is why it is the little girlâs voice that I like the best. She says, âSometime theyâll give a war and nobody will come.â
It is in that promise of sometime I take heart.
Go forth young Superheroes and heroines into your brave new world and help sound those bells of Ecstasy. It takes a true Superhero to know when to walk away.