Here in Camberwell, we like to think of our town as New England's most progressive community. In other towns, Christmas is a time of peace. In Camberwell, that's the spirit year-round, because our schools strictly abide by the proverb, "they shall teach war no more."
Bart Aikins was not alarmed when a letter arrived from a United States Senator addressed to his son, Jay. If he knew his son, the boy was writing Congress to ask them to protect wetlands or for some other worthwhile cause. Bart knocked on the door to Jay's bedroom, and handed the envelope to his son.
Jay tore it open immediately. "Yes!" Jay shouted. "I've been nominated to the Naval Academy."
"You have to be nominated by a Member of Congress in order to get into Annapolis."
"You're not serious about going there?"
"I want to serve my country," Jay said.
The boy was confused, Bart decided. "You don't serve your country by picking up a gun. You go to a school like Camberwell University--"
Jay rolled his eyes.
"Where you can volunteer in the local community."
"I want to do it through the armed forces, Dad."
"I forbid it!" To Bart's suprise, the words came naturally, even though he'd never said them before to his son.
"I can enlist on my own next year. At least this way I'll go to college."
Bart spent the next two hours in his son's room, trying to dissuade him. Susie, his wife, joined in the debate during the second hour, but it was no use. The boy was unreachable.
"We never let you play with toy guns," Susie said. "You're doing this to get back at us."
"We threw out that violent video game Uncle Rory gave you for Christmas--Monster Heart 3," Bart said. "You're still mad at us."
"That isn't it at all."
"We've gone without a TV in the house for fifteen years, just so you wouldn't be influenced," Susie said. "But you watch it at other boys' houses, don't you?"
"I wasn't influenced by TV," Jay said. "It was a book."
Jay had read a book by a United States Senator who'd once been a prisoner of war. He'd borrowed it from his high school library. Bart was furious. Everything he'd raised his son to be--undermined by a foolish book. What were his tax dollars were going for?
Bart demanded a meeting with the high school's principal and head librarian. They met in the principal's office.
"What the heck is going on in this place?" Bart asked.
The principal smoothed his beard. "We've gone to great effort to insulate our young people from war. In your son's history class, students study the causes of the First and Second World Wars, but they never learn about the battles. When the class reaches the Vietnam era, they learn about the protesters, but not about the soldiers."
"Fine, but I'm talking about the library books."
"Ellie?" The principal turned to the head librarian.
"Let me show you this memo I sent to my staff." Ellie distributed copies of the one page document. "Notice the third line: 'To instill a spirit of non-violence in our students, books of a martial nature shall not be acquired or displayed in this facility.'"
"My son says he got the book from your library," Bart snapped.
Ellie opened her laptop and tapped a few keys. "This is very odd. Your son did in fact borrow a book by Senator John McCain. Let me call my assistant."
The assistant librarian showed up five minutes later with the book in question. "Is this what you wanted?"
"Yes," Ellie said. "Steve, have you seen this memo?"
Steve peered over Ellie's shoulder and eyed the document.
"Yes," he said. "I have."
"Did you do anything about it?" Bart asked.
"Certainly. I'm strongly opposed to domestic violence." Steve nervously twisted the gold wedding band on his ring finger. "Many critics have blamed the institution of marriage itself for making men believe that women are their property. So in line with your memo, I've pulled off the shelves literature that takes the pro-marital point of view.
Ellie cleared her throat. "Steve, it doesn't say 'marital,' it says 'martial.' We're trying to ditch the war books."
"Ohhh!" Steve's face turned red, and he covered his mouth with his left hand. "You know, I did think it was a little strange."
"If you didn't understand the policy," Ellie said, "you should have asked me about it."
"In my last review," Steve said, "you said I needed to be more independent, and not run to you with every little question." The more Steve talked, the more Bart felt bitterness welling up. "Let me get this straight," Steve added. "It's okay to have books on marriage in the library?"
"Yes," Ellie said.
"So I should buy the new book by Al and Tipper Gore?"
Bart stood up and shouted, "Aren't there going to be any consequences for the man who fed my son to the war machine?"
"You want me to fire him?" Ellie asked. "We can't do that."
"Why not? He's incompetent."
"Competence has nothing to do with it," the principal said. "The man has tenure."