About a hundred years and two kids ago, or so it feels, sometimes, I had a radio show at my college station. There was a fellow named Rick who came in at five minutes after the hour to read the news - or at least, that's what he was supposed to be doing. Rick's ambition after graduation was to become a conservative pundit. To give you an idea of how long ago this was, the model of conservative punditry at the time was Morton Downey, Jr. (Told you I was older than dirt.) We were a music station, so we didn't really have a show whose format allowed Rick to hone the crucial skills needed to become a pseudo-intellectual carnival barker for our nation's lunatic fringe; therefore, Rick had to find creative ways to make the most of his limited air-time. It began innocently enough, with Rick adding a sports segment to his news report. To this he soon added "Rick's Picks at Aqueduct," for all those kids on campus who were slipping off to OTB between classes or something. Being a freshman, I was just trying to go along to get along, so I didn't even complain when he started wrapping up his newscast with "Rick's Thought for The Week," which was usually a fairly unoriginal four to five minute rant against typical conservative bugbears like affirmative action, women's athletics and the death tax. (Who the hell thinks about the death tax when they're in college? For Christ's sake, go get laid or something.)
Anyway, I decided that I had finally had enough of Rick the day Rick's Thought for The Week was directed towards "the ladies in the audience." Rick wanted "the ladies" to remember that they had a "duty to America," and the best way they could fulfill that duty was to have no fewer than four children. Now, Rick understood that "most of you ladies" were probably more concerned with having a good career and such, but the defense of our nation must come before all that - and by having at least four children, two "could be sent to the army" while the other two could remain with the family so "you ladies" wouldn't "get lonely."
Rick never made it out of his chair. I cut his mike, walked around the console, rolled him out of the studio and locked the door behind him. It was a small studio, and frankly being that close to that kind of stupid was unnerving and I feared contagion.
Now, as Bill Cosby used to say back when was still funny, I told you that story so I could tell you this one.
Conservatives as a whole and the Christian right in particular have been saying for decades that large families - "full quivers" of children - are essential for a strong nation. This rhetoric is becoming increasingly frenzied now that they have decided America and Europe's declining birth rates mean Christian civilization is ceding the planet to Islam - and, by Christian civilization they mean white people, since the overwhelmingly Christian population of Latin America never seems to get mentioned in this discussion. Pat Buchanan wrote a whole book dedicated to this idea, and I have seen more than one conservative blogger lament that we probably wouldn't have a manpower shortage in Iraq if we didn't have so many abortions in this country. 'Cause, you know, had those pregnancies been carried to term all those people would have signed up to go to Iraq, Iraq being so awesome and all.
The sexist overtones of this position are obvious, and ably demolished here by Echidne; seeing as she's about ten times smarter and five times more talented than me I'll let her handle that. I find this whole line of thinking disturbing for another reason: as a parent, it is utterly incomprehensible to me that anyone would even consider conceiving a child for the express purpose of that child being used as cannon fodder in the culture wars.
And make no mistake about it: that's exactly what these people claim it is our duty to do. "Pro-family" activist groups such as the World Council for Families actually use language like "full quivers of children" and refer to children as "arrows for the war." Then, without a hint of irony, they turn around and accuse non-breeding men and women of child-bearing age of being excessively self-centered.
The title of this post comes from Shakespeare's Henry V; it's from the scene where Henry's struggling to woo the French princess and having limited success due to the language barrier and the fact that he's just killed most of her family. Henry tries to explain to her that his fierce looks are due to his father "thinking of civil wars when he got me." I don't believe in the medieval science of physiognomy, but it does seem obvious to me that something very similar would happen to children born for the sole purpose of stemming the rising Muslim tide: while they may seem perfectly ordinary on the outside, I believe a certain ugliness of spirit might overtake them. It seems inevitable, given the mindset of the parents - people who are so afraid of the other that they transform what should be a joyous and creative act into a salvo against their perceived enemies aren't likely to be the most enlightened and nurturing folk. And how on earth would you ever have that conversation with your kid? "Billy, there's something you need to know. Mommy and I decided to have you because we need more white people in the world ." Holy crap.
Rick, who I discussed above, is obviously an extreme example of this type of thinking but not particularly so. While most "pro-family" activists don't come out and say you're breeding for the army, for conflict, you don't have to be especially sensitive to detect that subtext. But what if none of your kids want to join the army? What if they all decide that the whole idea is bonkers and for that matter you are too? What then? I guess it's possible to run roughshod over your children's free will - it happens all the time. But there's no way I could ever "choose" which of my kids was to be sent off to join the military, and I don't know how these people expect to be able to do that.
Then again, I have a sneaking suspicion that they aren't thinking that far ahead.