I worry about the amount fear mongering in this election season. Rhetoric has been less about platform and strategy and more about how much the other candidate will impact your life and ruin the United States and the now ill-defined American dream. It is not so much for the voters that I worry but for the children who are inadvertently exposed to negative campaigning through television, news, and the internet. If voters cave to the pressures of fear mongering, then to an extent we get what we deserve, but children do not have the filters that come with age and experience to keep away the effects of potentially harmful words.
I have not investigated nor interviewed anyone to know if this worry is real or imagined. It is simply a feeling that has arisen from my own innocent youth and the irrational (but real enough to me) fears I had as a boy.
In the late sixties, I was on the downhill side of my formative single digit years. This country’s feelings toward the Vietnam War were just beginning to simmer and boil. For this conflict, the draft was still in force in the nation. The draft that mandatory instrument by which the armed services replenished itself. At the time, the draft was held by lottery. Birthdates were drawn at random, the sooner your birthday was picked, then the greater the chance of your receiving a draft notice.
The draft was a fearful thing, not just because there was a war, but because it was the first war to be covered on television. This was the first war the press could report what was happening to US troops as it occurred. This was the first war where the public could make up its mind based on information that was not purely government spun.
The fear generated by the horror of the Vietnam War for a child my age was more nebulous, more a sense in the gut. Adults can more easily attach concrete ideas to their worries, and therefore know better what they are afraid of. Still the idea of the war and what potentially fighting in it could mean scared me, particularly when adults or talking heads discussed it within earshot.
One night the family was watching television (on one of the only three networks which were available in that fog enshrouded era) the draft lottery was being broadcast. I new nothing about draft eligible age, I knew only that the sooner your birth date was picked, the sooner you would go off to war. I was also aware that war as seen on the news was not heroic and bloodless as war as on shown a television show like "The Rat Patrol."
The feeling in the den was somber, there was nothing jovial in watching the call to the service of one's nation. Silently we watched as the lottery drawing was made. The first date picked, then the second, then mine, then the fourth, and on down the line. I am sure my birthday being drawn third elicited some smart-aleck comment from one of my siblings followed by laughter, but I was struck ice cold.
At the time no one knew it, but I was afraid, and because my parents never made mention of what I felt to be my upcoming draft notice, I didn't feel I could talk to them. I had to appear as brave as I thought they obviously thought I was. For months (far beyond my normal child's attention span should have been good for), I was afraid that the mail was carrying a letter for me from a grateful president. I was afraid I would be going far from everything I knew to a violent world pictured in black and white on the other side of the television screen.
Of course I was never drafted, and the knot in my belly eventually left me, but the memory endures. It lives on in me as an example of how something that is uttered can scar the formative mind. Children are not always self-aware enough to question what adults say. We don't keep this in mind enough and this doubly true for politicians. They are far more interested in obtaining or maintaining power by scaring the electorate and degrading their rival, than making a case based solely on their strengths and positions.