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Thread: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

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    Nobody expects the Senior Member Lemur's Avatar
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    Question Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    My eldest lemurling, who is seven, has been asking a lot of difficult questions lately. "Aren't we in a war?" "Two? Why don't people talk about it more?" "Why are we in them?" "Are we going to win?" And so on and so forth.

    I found myself in the strange position of trying to explain the concept of insurgency and counter-insurgency to my little son at bathtime. "Unexpected" doesn't begin to cover it.

    I worry at these moments. If I explain the situation with anything less than total clarity, he's going to repeat some garbled version of what I just said, which fills me with dread. But getting a little kid to understand, really understand some of these concepts and realities stretches my ability to explain to the breaking point.

    Here's a rough transcript of my (futile?) attempt to explain insurgency:

    Lemurling: So we have the best army in the world?

    Lemur: Yes, absolutely. There's nobody who can stand up to us in a regular fight.

    Lemurling: So we won.

    Lemur: Not exactly.

    Lemurling: So we're losing.

    Lemur: No, not exactly. We're fighting what's called an insurgency.

    Lemurling: A what?

    [Long pause.]

    Lemur: Okay, let's say aliens invade our town. There are alien gunships in the sky. There are alien tanks on the street. Aliens go door to door and ask a lot of questions. How do we fight them?

    Lemurling: We only have a few police.

    Lemur: Right.

    Lemuring: How do we fight them?

    Lemur: That's the question.

    Lemurling: Um ... we can't fight them.

    Lemur: Actually, there's a way. Let's say an alien comes to the door and asks if I'm going to fight. "Oh no, Mister Alien," I tell him, "I love you guys. Go aliens! Rah!" But maybe that night I plant a bomb by the road and I blow up one of their tanks.

    Lemurling: But then they'd know and they'd get you.

    Lemur: No, when the aliens come back I say, "Oh no, mister nice alien, I have no idea who blew up your tank, but I'll make sure to keep an eye out."

    Lemurling: You'd lie!

    Lemur: That's how you do it. That's how you fight when the other guys have all the guns and gear. It's always bad to lie, but we're talking about an enemy who has overwhelming force.

    Lemurling: I get it.

    Lemur: Okay, well here's the thing: we're the aliens.

    Lemurling: WHAT?

    Lemur: We're the ones with the helicopters, the tanks, the planes, the gear. We're the ones nobody can stand up to. Depending on how you look at it, we won the war in Afghanistan eight or nine years ago. It's this insurgency we're having a hard time with.

    [Long pause.]

    Lemurling: So why don't we just kill them all?

    Lemur: [laughing] That's what the Romans would do. And it would work. But killing everyone, men women and children, that wouldn't go down well in the world.

    Lemurling: No, no, no, separate the bad guys and just kill them.

    Lemur: So who's the bad guys?

    Lemurling: Ask them.

    Lemur: Oh no Mister nice alien, I never did anything bad.

    Lemurling: They'll lie.

    Lemur: Yes. Of course. Wouldn't you?

    Lemurling: This is tough. Let me think about this. I know I can figure this out.

    Lemur: Puppy, the smartest people in our military have been thinking about this for years. It's a very hard question.

    [long pause]

    Lemurling: So how do we win?

    Lemur: I don't know. How would the aliens win in our town?

    Lemurling: I don't know.

    Lemur: I think eventually the aliens just have to leave. There's no way we would ever accept them.

    Lemurling: Or they could kill everyone.

    Lemur: Yes, that would work too.

    So help a lemur out here. If you have kids, have you tried to explain concepts like this to them? How did you go about doing it? If you're still a young'un, do you have any memories of how your mammy or pappy approached this stuff? I'd like to hear some real examples, if at all possible.

    And lastly, am i on a fool's errand, trying to explain this sort of thing to a first-grader? He really wants to know, but should I put him off for a bit, let him grow up a little before I try to explain these things?
    "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them ... well, I have others." — Groucho Marx

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    Ni dieu ni maître! Senior Member a completely inoffensive name's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    I have to say holy ****, because that was some damn good parenting imo. Explain everything, if he doesn't understand tell him time, knowledge and more thinking will provide the answer always.

    EDIT: I don't have an memories of such an event, so I can't help you much there.
    In all these papers we see a love of honest work, an aversion to shams, a caution in the enunciation of conclusions, a distrust of rash generalizations and speculations based on uncertain premises. He was never anxious to add one more guess on doubtful matters in the hope of hitting the truth, or what might pass as such for a time, but was always ready to take infinite pains in the most careful testing of every theory. With these qualities was united a modesty which forbade the pushing of his own claims and desired no reputation except the unsought tribute of competent judges.

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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    My parents used to just let me watch the Mclaughlin group. I loved it

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    Darkside Medic Senior Member rory_20_uk's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    I think it's like any other subject one has to start form the basics to grow a frame of reference.

    This is such a difficult one as it requires a decent grasp of several other subjects.

    I'd build up from easier examples such as a bog standard war and aftermath and go from there. There are many historical examples where you've got the whole narrative spelt out for you so you can see what happened - e.g. the counter insurgency in Malaysia is one that is a good time in the past and not contentious.

    As you say, garbled repeats could end up with dad saying we need to kill all the Muslims to win which could make for an interesting Parent / Teacher meeting...

    An enemy that wishes to die for their country is the best sort to face - you both have the same aim in mind.
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    pardon my klatchian Member al Roumi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    Given the complexity of the issue, I think you did a good job there Lemur. No kids of my own (yet) but explaining that "we" might not be the good guys is a tough one to get accross...

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    Nobody expects the Senior Member Lemur's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    Quote Originally Posted by alh_p View Post
    [E]xplaining that "we" might not be the good guys is a tough one to get accross...
    That isn't even what I was aiming for; I just wanted him to get, on a gut level, what an "insurgency" was, and why it's so difficult to fight.
    "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them ... well, I have others." — Groucho Marx

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    Mr Self Important Senior Member Beskar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    He has advanced a stage further than the republicans, who just go "Nuke them all". Very good progress.
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    Ranting madman of the .org Senior Member Fly Shoot Champion, Helicopter Champion, Pedestrian Killer Champion, Sharpshooter Champion, NFS Underground Champion Rhyfelwyr's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    Well he did say to kill them all a few times. TotalWar is in his blood!
    At the end of the day politics is just trash compared to the Gospel.

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    Enlightened Despot Member Vladimir's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    Quote Originally Posted by Rhyfelwyr View Post
    Well he did say to kill them all a few times. TotalWar is in his blood!
    Indeed, very insightful. Believe it or not, that's a good place to start from. A more idealistic approach would eventually lead to a regression toward this rather than a growth from it; this, you can build upon.

    He'll likely think about it some more. The best thing to do is introduce him to a variety of people during his life. He'll eventually grow out of the kill 'em all phase and learn...which ones to kill. By that, of course, I mean recognize the bad people from the good ones.

    Right now he has the 50,000 foot view. Work toward a human terrain team by 18.



    He could have said: Nuke them from orbit. It's the only way to be sure. That would make Vladimir so proud of his son, Ivan.


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    Nobody expects the Senior Member Lemur's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    Quote Originally Posted by Vladimir View Post
    Right now he has the 50,000 foot view. Work toward a human terrain team by 18.
    Oh man, I hope he can achieve humanity a little earlier than that. I don't want to wait eleven years to have a nuanced conversation with my son.

    Sasaki, how old were you when your parents started letting you watch Mclaughlin Group? If you were a little one, did you feel like you still got something out of it?
    "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them ... well, I have others." — Groucho Marx

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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    Around 8 I think; I don't know that I got anything out of it though. Except that that kind of thing involved talking really fast and interrupting people and using big words and I didn't understand it. I ignored politics till my late teens...maybe as a result :p

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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    Quote Originally Posted by Lemur View Post
    Oh man, I hope he can achieve humanity a little earlier than that. I don't want to wait eleven years to have a nuanced conversation with my son.

    Sasaki, how old were you when your parents started letting you watch Mclaughlin Group? If you were a little one, did you feel like you still got something out of it?
    You might be waiting 11 years, but then you will be able to have those conversations for the rest of your life. To be honest Lemur, if he gets to that point by 16-18 he is already ahead of the game. Don't forget that many youth are so ignorant about this stuff even until their twenties or more. Trust me, the majority of people I have met at my university don't really think beyond one or two statements they agree with when it comes to many subjects.

    EDIT: Example. Was watching the California Gubernatorial Debate the other day. I'm trying to watch it in the tv in my apartments common area, half the time the stoner roommate comes in loud as hell and starts making a big ruckus with some of the female roommates (flirting). Really, really loud talking and laughing. Then he starts making a joke of the whole thing while I am trying to watch (after every single statement no matter what subject he would say something to the tune of "They are both lying! They want to stop me from smoking pot even though it doesn't have any side effects whatsoever!"). Then one of my female roommates takes a look at the tv for about 12 seconds and then says "That ugly guy is going to lose." "Who? Jerry Brown?" "Yeah, he just looks ugly and his voice is terrible, he isn't going to win. I'm going to vote for the woman." Cue second female roommate "But she is so ugly too!". Complete facepalm on my part at this point.

    You should be so lucky Lemur, the fact you had this conversation with your kid and the way it turned out makes your child more contemplative then some college aged people I have met. Idk what you did, but you are doing something right.

    EDIT 2: Also, if you have a daughter and she doesn't watch Gossip Girl, Glee or Jersey Shore you are raising the kid better then 60% of the girls I have met at college.
    Last edited by a completely inoffensive name; 10-14-2010 at 10:52.
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    Hope guides me Senior Member Hosakawa Tito's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    Hehehe, I remember watching the nightly news as a lad during the Vietnam war. They always had to give out the body count totals like it was a football score. Walter Cronkite also frequently described the VC & NVA as "guerillas", and in my little boy mind I thought they meant gorillas. "Dad, why are they shooting gorillas?"

    You're doing a fine job 'splaining Lem. Don't put him off, you're his go to guy for the answers to life's mysteries.
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    pardon my klatchian Member al Roumi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    Quote Originally Posted by Lemur View Post
    That isn't even what I was aiming for; I just wanted him to get, on a gut level, what an "insurgency" was, and why it's so difficult to fight.
    If only there were a version of Mao's "on guerilla warfare" for 8-10 year olds... Actually, I'm very glad there isn't.

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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    Quote Originally Posted by Lemur
    Lemurling: So why don't we just kill them all?
    You have said several times on this forum that your boy will grow up to rule the world. I believe he is well on his way.
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    Darkside Medic Senior Member rory_20_uk's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    My sister had a similar approach to solving the ongoing famine in Africa: better a sudden genocide and rebuild than an ongoing slow lingering death with no solutions in sight... It has a sociopathic logic to it.

    An enemy that wishes to die for their country is the best sort to face - you both have the same aim in mind.
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    master of the pwniverse Member Fragony's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    Quote Originally Posted by rory_20_uk View Post
    My sister had a similar approach to solving the ongoing famine in Africa: better a sudden genocide and rebuild than an ongoing slow lingering death with no solutions in sight... It has a sociopathic logic to it.

    lol still on speaking terms

    OT the Anne Frank diary is written from a child's perspective, she isn't angry or bitter, only confused and amazed that this is actually happening. Pretty much asking all existional questions wthwhy-technically.

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    pardon my klatchian Member al Roumi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    Quote Originally Posted by rory_20_uk View Post
    My sister had a similar approach to solving the ongoing famine in Africa: better a sudden genocide and rebuild than an ongoing slow lingering death with no solutions in sight... It has a sociopathic logic to it.
    That's how I played RTW... Even as the carthaginians, Carthage had to be "purged" every so often.

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    The Rhetorician Member Skullheadhq's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    Quote Originally Posted by Lemur View Post
    "Aren't we in a war?"
    Yes

    Quote Originally Posted by Lemur View Post
    "Why are we in them?"
    Oil, Money and revenge

    Quote Originally Posted by Lemur View Post
    "Are we going to win?"
    No

    That's as easy as it gets
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    Nobody expects the Senior Member Lemur's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    My lemurling definitely shares my sense of humor. Recently he heard (at school, I think) that we had declared the end of the Iraq war. Sort of. So he asks me, "Isn't that a big deal?"

    "Sure, of course," I say.

    "So why aren't we having parades and stuff? Don't you have a parade when a war is over?"

    "Um, listen, it's complicated. We already declared the thing in Iraq over and won, a long time ago. We had another president then."

    "Who?"

    "His name was Bush, but you won't remember him. Anyway, he thought the war was over, so he did this big thing, flew onto an aircraft carrier, had big banners, bands playing, the whole set-up. And he declared, basically, that we had won."

    "Good! Good!"

    "Yes, but there was one problem."

    "What?"

    "We kept fighting for another eight years."

    "EIGHT YEARS?"

    "Eight years. So everybody's a little ... umm ... sensitive about declaring victory. We're kinda being mellow about it this time."

    [Long pause, then Lemurling begins laughing hysterically.]

    "Eight years? Eight years? We fought for eight more years? So he's like, 'It's over,' and eight years? Ha ha ha ha!"

    "Yup. And you're only seven years old. So that president's mistake lasted longer than you've been alive. Goofy, huh?"

    "Eight years! Wow! Ha ha ha ha!"

    "And even now we have thousands of troops there, and who knows when they'll ever come home. So ... no parades this time."
    "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them ... well, I have others." — Groucho Marx

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    master of the pwniverse Member Fragony's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    Compliments to writing, that is good. Perfect rythem

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    Senior Member Senior Member naut's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    If I end up half as good a parent as you I'll be a happy man.
    #Hillary4prism

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    Ranting madman of the .org Senior Member Fly Shoot Champion, Helicopter Champion, Pedestrian Killer Champion, Sharpshooter Champion, NFS Underground Champion Rhyfelwyr's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    Maybe you could have made it clearer from the start that is is not a case of USA v Afghanistan/Iraq, it does make it sound like a total war scenario where one goes out to obliterate/subdue the other, maybe that's why the Lemurling thought of killing all the Afghans.

    Maybe you could have said how a lot of the Afghans were being bullied by the Taliban, and so the US went in to help the ordinary Afghans out? And that Afghans aren't just a single group of people like we usually think of when we think of countries, but they have all sorts of conflicts between themselves like with the Pashtuns and other ethnic groups etc.
    At the end of the day politics is just trash compared to the Gospel.

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    Old Town Road Senior Member Strike For The South's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    Quote Originally Posted by a completely inoffensive name View Post
    EDIT: Example. Was watching the California Gubernatorial Debate the other day. I'm trying to watch it in the tv in my apartments common area, half the time the stoner roommate comes in loud as hell and starts making a big ruckus with some of the female roommates (flirting). Really, really loud talking and laughing. Then he starts making a joke of the whole thing while I am trying to watch (after every single statement no matter what subject he would say something to the tune of "They are both lying! They want to stop me from smoking pot even though it doesn't have any side effects whatsoever!"). Then one of my female roommates takes a look at the tv for about 12 seconds and then says "That ugly guy is going to lose." "Who? Jerry Brown?" "Yeah, he just looks ugly and his voice is terrible, he isn't going to win. I'm going to vote for the woman." Cue second female roommate "But she is so ugly too!". Complete facepalm on my part at this point.

    You should be so lucky Lemur, the fact you had this conversation with your kid and the way it turned out makes your child more contemplative then some college aged people I have met. Idk what you did, but you are doing something right.

    EDIT 2: Also, if you have a daughter and she doesn't watch Gossip Girl, Glee or Jersey Shore you are raising the kid better then 60% of the girls I have met at college.
    You need to calm down

    Good Job Lemur, my parents never mentioned politics until I graduated high school. They have always felt they were uselss
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    Nobody expects the Senior Member Lemur's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    Quote Originally Posted by Rhyfelwyr View Post
    Maybe you could have said how a lot of the Afghans were being bullied by the Taliban, and so the US went in to help the ordinary Afghans out? And that Afghans aren't just a single group of people like we usually think of when we think of countries, but they have all sorts of conflicts between themselves like with the Pashtuns and other ethnic groups etc.
    Oh, gosh, all of that is valid, but I try to be careful how much I try to cram into my little lemur's head at one go. I almost always preface this sort of conversation by saying, "It's complicated, but I can explain part of it." It's gotten to be something of a joke with my lemurling. "Dad, you know how you always say 'It's complicated?' "

    I don't want him to get the impression that there are things he simply can't understand, 'cause I think that sends a bad message, but I try to limit the scope of each explanation. Like I said, at bathtime two nights ago I was just trying to give him a tangible understanding of insurgency. If I could just communicate that clearly I would feel full of win.

    I only explained racism a few weeks ago, and I don't think he got it. The idea that someone would judge an entire group of people based on trivial physical appearances ... I think that went right over his head. Or under, rather. I don't know if I'm ready to try to explain tribalism just yet.

    The worst one was when he asked me in the car if Christmas was Jesus' birthday. Ooooh, that stung. My inner thought process:

    Do I say, see, there was a Roman festival of Sol Invictus, and then the Roman empire became Christian, but not right away ... no. Absolutely not. Do I just say "Yes"? What about my vow to never feed him bad info for any reason? Do I violate that for my own convenience? Maybe I boil it down a little, say something like, "It was a holy day for a long time and then the Christians decided to use it for Jesus to keep things simple." No, no good, then he'll be asking when Jesus' real birthday is, and I don't know, 'cause nobody knows. Grrrrr.

    Finally I gave him, "That's the tradition."

    "What's a 'tradition'?"

    Grrrr.
    Last edited by Lemur; 10-14-2010 at 17:45.
    "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them ... well, I have others." — Groucho Marx

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    pardon my klatchian Member al Roumi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    By the sound of it, you may find this relevant:



    http://xkcd.com/803/
    Last edited by al Roumi; 10-14-2010 at 17:37.

  27. #27
    Enlightened Despot Member Vladimir's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    Christmas is easy: It's when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Like a federal holiday, which, for me, is one in the same.

    He needs to understand that there are things he doesn't understand, things he will never truly *know*, and that it's impossible to completely know or understand anything. The important thing is the quest for knowledge.


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    Nobody expects the Senior Member Lemur's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    Yeah, I feel a twinge of guilt every time I say "It's complicated," but then I try to make up for it by explaining some aspect of what he's asking. And of course if I don't know I just tell him that I don't know. Those are the easy ones. "What kind of tree is that?"

    "I don't know, puppy. You should ask your grandma. She's very smart about biology and trees and that sort of thing."

    Yeah, the I dunno questions are a walk. It's the ones where I do know but there are just too many angles to explain quickly that knock me back.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vladimir View Post
    Christmas is easy: It's when we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
    At that moment, while driving, I found the answer exceptionally hard.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vladimir View Post
    He needs to understand that there are things he doesn't understand, things he will never truly *know*, and that it's impossible to completely know or understand anything. The important thing is the quest for knowledge.
    Well, I don't know if I entirely agree; you can certainly master aspects of some knowledge. Maybe you'll never jot down every digit in Pi, for example, but you can figure out enough of it to use it in an engineering problem. And so forth.

    But it's all about the quest for knowledge? Absolutely. Damn straight.
    Last edited by Lemur; 10-14-2010 at 17:45.
    "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them ... well, I have others." — Groucho Marx

  29. #29

    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    If it ever stresses you out, you can reread some of those calvin and hobbes comments and live vicariously through calvin's dad..."that's because the world really was black and white back then".

  30. #30
    pardon my klatchian Member al Roumi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Explaining geopolitics to a seven year-old

    I think the "wrongness" in the XKCD example is not the "it's complicated" but the "we need to move on". It's slamming the door on inquisitiveness which needs to be avoided, and it sounds like you certainly don't do that!

    I think it's important to understand things are complicated. If your Lemurling gets into science, he'll discover that not everything he is told is always true. I still remember my surprise when finding out that the "plum pudding" (or quasi solar system) atomic model (neutrons & protons in centre, sperical electrons wizing around) wasn't actually right -and I was 17 then...
    Last edited by al Roumi; 10-14-2010 at 17:52. Reason: sp

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