Not a game
Young Sam loved to play war with his friends along the dusty streets during the long summer days when they were off school. It was a serious affair, involved advanced planning and everything. The terrain had to be taken account of. Cars and hedges became cover for advances, trees and balconies could hold nests of snipers and the old shed of the club-house was an impenetrable fortress. Weapons were wide and varied, from the classics, toy guns and sticks for swords, to the favourite water balloons. Starting skirmishes began the second all the children left their homes in the morning, short-lived ceasefires were declared for lunch and snacks and as the sun fell at the end of the day an eventual surrender or armistice was declared and the massed combatants returned as friends to await the next war.
Most of the grown-ups didn’t mind to see Sam and his friends playing on the street, provided they didn’t break anything or cause a nuisance. Everyone except for Sams old Grandpa Geoff. When he would see Sam with his toy gun or marching with the rest of the boys, he would get very upset. He would shout and roar at them and chase them with his stick. But they could always outrun him. He was slow on account of his limp. Got wounded in the great war they said, never was the same again they said. It never mattered what some old loon thought about what they were doing. They were having fun.
Sam and his friends got older and they stopped playing at war and fighting. They never stopped their interest though. Sam had found an old gun in his house, it used to belong to his uncle Bob, who didn’t come back from Africa. Sam used to ride up to the old saw mill and shoot cans and such with his friends. He learned how to aim properly and how to take your time before you fire, he got really good. Until Grandpa found out. He was livid, talking about, the proper time and taking responsibility. Sam didn’t really understand what all of the fuss was about, they were safe, took all of the precautions, never caused major damage. Grandpa wasn’t hearing any of it though. He put the gun in his vice and bent it out of shape with a hammer, then he buried the remains in the backyard, real deep.
Time went on and when Sam was of the age to call himself a man some old men came on the television and said that they needed young men to fight for their country. Sam and his friends knew that it was their time, and that they were going to jump before they were pushed.
The day they were set to leave, Grandpa Geoff didn’t say very much to Sam, he seemed sad, not angry or anything, just sad. He gave Sam a hug before he left, seemed like he was going to cry, but didn’t too much of a man for that. Sam wondered what had gotten over the old man, he figured that it was because his Grandpa was so old that he may not be still around when he comes back.
They trained Sam, taught him all you needed to know to be a soldier and more. He found that he did it well, was a natural. Following orders, drilling, training, he was made for this, it was what he had been preparing for his whole life. Then they sent him off to fight.
People had said it, many times, but war is hard, far harder than he had ever imagined. Many of the friends that he had came with are not there any more. The last time he saw many of them what remained of them was lying in the middle of some fetid swamp, staining the mud red. The games of his youth a distant memory, he thinks only of one thing, getting out alive, getting back home. He might even do it too. He’s lasted this long. If some general decides not to sacrifice is life and those of the people he fights with he may make it through. But he is under no illusions.
He knows one thing though. He knows why his grandfather had tried to stop them when he was a boy. He knew he was only trying to tell them what every soldier knew. That war is not a game, it is not fun, there are no rules or do overs. War is real, war is deadly, war is hell. He knew these things now. And he also knew that if he survived, if by some miracle he made it, then he would do exactly what his grandfather had done before him. Try and stop children from playing war. Because war is not a game and it never will be. And the sooner they realise that perhaps the better things will be.