When I picked my six-year-old daughter up from after-school care on Friday the other kids complained: “She can’t go, she’s the only one who can be an American!” Confused, I asked what they were playing. “War in Iraq, of course!” my daughter told me, surprised at my density. Another girl sighed, and explained, “We can’t speak English yet, so we can’t be the American. That’s why we need A.” “So what does the American do in this game?” I asked. “The American kidnaps everyone else!” my daughter told me with glee. “And I get to keep the key in my pocket!”
Two children in my daughter’s class are Iraqi Kurds, and one of the assistent teachers is from Northern Iraq, too. They have family members in Bagdad and Kirkit and Basra and the childrens’ parents and elder siblings vividly remember their escape from their home country. Other children in my daughter class sat down to watch cartoons before school on the day the war started and saw bombs and screaming civilians instead – children’s TV had been cancelled and replaced by the news. The war is closer to these children than to many adults.
On the way home I asked my daughter whether they often play War in Iraq at school. “Oh yes, we’ve played it fifty or maybe hundred times!” She thought for a minute. “Yes, a hundred times.” I asked her whether she always played the American. “Oh no,” she answered, “usually we don’t have an American. Usually we’re all Iraqis and we’re inside our house and there are bombs and then the electricity goes and we’re scared.”