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Today in World War II History

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Lessons from the 1940s – Careless Words Kill

US poster, 1943

US poster, 1943

During World War II, careless words could lead to needless deaths. A mother chatting in the beauty parlor about her son’s ship leaving San Diego the next day, a spy in the chair next to her – a sub notified, a ship sunk. Posters like this reminded people to watch their words.

Recently school bullying has made the headlines. Careless, cruel words caused several teens to hate their lives so much that suicide seemed the only escape. Needless, heartbreaking deaths.

Bullying has always been with us. How many of us were on the receiving end as children? How many dished it out – and are willing to admit it?

However, technology has made bullying worse. While a bullied child used to be able to retreat to a safe home, now text messages and social media batter them with those careless words all day long.

In addition, our culture has elevated snarkiness to art form. While politicians and celebrities have always been targets for the media, now the common man has the ability to add his own comments. We feel safe mocking the famous – we’ll never meet them in person and see the effect of our words – besides, they knew what they were getting into, didn’t they? And our culture grows meaner.

And so one teen, desperate to be accepted by others, beats another teen up with her words. The others laugh at her clever snarkiness. They join in. The victim slowly dies inside.

How can we stop this? We can refuse to join in the meanness. We can refuse to laugh at snarkiness. We can keep communication open with our children, watching for signs that they’re bullies or victims. Most of all, we can watch our own words vigilantly and teach our children likewise. Words have power. Use them wisely.

How do you recommend we stop this cycle?

3 responses to “Lessons from the 1940s – Careless Words Kill”

  1. You are spot on with your assessment. I think you’re right in that we stop it at home with our children, but also, if we are in the workplace and see it, we need to stop it there, too. Speaking up is something we need to do – even if we’re going to be hammered for it later. Our culture has just been flung into the mud in so many ways. Common decency and respect for other people has gone out the window.

  2. Good questions. Being homeschooled, I managed to escape any bullying, but now I’m aware of it in other kids, even though my oldest is only two and a half. How do I protect her? I like your analogy to the effect of careless words in WWII.

  3. Sarah Sundin says:

    Melissa – respect and courtesy have definitely fallen away.
    Koala Bear – I wish I had the answers 🙂 My oldest two children shrugged off bullying, never let it get to them – and never had any problems. My youngest reacts with fierce anger, and he’s having problems. It hurts watching him go through it. I tell him not to react, but that’s easier said than done.

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“Another masterful installment in Sundin’s roster of WWII novels.”
—Booklist starred review for Embers in the London Sky

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