Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen
mrissa

Heavy water, totalitarians, and kindergarten

When I was reading Scandinavia: At War With Trolls last week, I got to the raids on the heavy water plant during WWII, and I had to stop and smile, remembering how when I was 7, I figured out that heavy water probably looked like regular water. Before that when I'd picture the raids on the heavy water plant, I pictured heavy water as this rich indigo color. I would picture some of it spilling away into the ocean, mostly dispersing, but some of it collecting in the depths of the fjord or lake. I imagined that on clear days the Nazis could look down and see the tiny darker blue pools on the bottom and fume.

Then it occurred to me that most 4-to-6-year-olds may not spend time thinking about the raids on the Norwegian heavy water plant during the Second World War. Just possibly not. I had a sense that my family was weird when I was little -- of course I did. It was inevitable that I would. But the specifics of which things were weird didn't always occur to me until much later. Like, er, now.

Reading along in the same vein, I remembered my plans for what to do if a totalitarian regime took over the US. Again, this was when I was kindergarten age. I didn't intend to topple the whole regime at the age of five. My delusions of grandeur were much smaller than that. I just figured that they were likely to start persecuting some group or another -- totalitarians, from what I could piece together at the time, were like that -- and I might have to try to get its local representatives away to safety. Jewish and labor unionist families were easy, I figured, because they could blend. The totalitarian state would have to know who they were to know to mistreat them, so we could just say they were somebody else until we were all well away. As far as minorities with some impact on my life, though, Chinese immigrants were the number one group, and that would be much harder, I thought as a kindergartener, because you would have to hide the people themselves, not merely their identities. I really doubted that the totalitarians would buy, "They're not Chinese, they're Taiwanese" or some similar dodge, so we'd have to hide them, and cabbage carts were considerably less common leaving Nebraska than once they were. When I brought this up at the dinner table, Mark said, "What if they persecuted the intellectuals?" I said, "Oh, that was the easy one -- that was just my own family, maybe Jimmer on a good day."

I know why I thought all this, too. I was talking to my mom one morning about telling the truth and whether it was an absolute thing you always had to do. And being my mom, the counterexample she came up with for her preschooler was not "if someone is having a birthday surprise, you don't tell them the truth and spoil it for them" or something like that. No, Mom skipped straight on to saving Jewish people from the Nazis. She really warmed to her subject, telling the stories of the kings of Denmark and Norway during the occupation and how they declared that all loyal Danes and Norwegians would wear the Star of David when the Jewish Danes and Norwegians were commanded to do so, so that the Nazis couldn't punish the Jewish people for not doing it, and so that the Nazis couldn't tell the difference. I was fascinated. It was extremely clear to me at the time that this was a "go thou, and do likewise" situation: that should we get taken over by a totalitarian regime tomorrow, Mom would expect me to turn all my energy to thwarting them. It didn't sound like an academic question at the time.

I'm not sure whether Mom thought it was one or not. She was a big history buff, especially WWII tank battles and northern stuff, and she taught me to draw the H7 of the Norwegian resistance very nearly as soon as I knew H's and 7's. There were all sorts of things she never explicitly told me. I think if you'd asked me when I was four what the Nazis did to people when they caught them, I would have said they locked them up and then maybe guillotined them. Dad and I had read The Scarlet Pimpernel together, so I knew all about the guillotine and totalitarian states. Nobody explained what happened in the concentration camps until I was somewhat older, and I think that was a good thing; the guillotine was quite enough incentive, in my little-kid brain, to get the only Jewish girl in my school to swear that she was my cousin and take her to Canada.

North was always safety. Always. The stories Mom told were of people escaping from the continent north to Sweden (we even have a member of our extended family who was shipped north to Sweden as a 10-year-old, one of the little Austrian Jewish kids who got put in the hold of a Danish fishing boat early on). So it seemed obvious that if the US was taken over, getting people north to Canada was the goal, or at least to northern Minnesota, where they could hide in the woods and sneak north or else get on an ore boat on Superior. (Also I had been to Duluth and could easily picture it in dramatic scenes, which never hurt a plan, in my young opinion.)

Did you have childhood plans for if a totalitarian regime took over your home country? (Sadly not applicable to those of you who actually grew up under a totalitarian government -- or is it? Did you think about what you would do if someone worse or differently bad came along?) Did you plan to be the totalitarian regime? Did you not think about governments at all until high school? Did your parents talk to you about politics when you were small or leave it for later or never at all?
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