GLEN COVE, NY — When we were very young, two of
my sisters and I played a game in which we had alternate identities
with magical powers. These powers were strongest in our “magic
mist,” which was my father’s
study in the morning before all the stale cigarette smoke from the
previous night had been aired out.
One of my sisters has pointed out the impossibility of her granddaughter
ever enjoying the pleasure of playing in a stale-smoke-filled room.
This little girl will never be able to imagine a smoke-filled room
in a “magic mist” for two reasons: we have abolished smoke-filled
rooms, and we have abolished the pleasures of childhood.
Although smoke-filled rooms do not have magic powers, they did have
the power to produce solutions when filled with politicians. Perhaps
they stimulated the imaginations of politicians the same way they stimulated
the imaginations of children. Such rooms supposedly caused cancer,
but neither I nor my sisters has cancer although we are all about 70
years old. There is no objective evidence that being in smoke-filled
rooms increases the chance of contracting cancer.
The smoke-filled room needed a second ingredient to be a childhood
pleasure — imagination. There is, however, a war being waged today
on the imagination of children. More and more of their time has been
redirected from unsupervised and creative play to planned, orchestrated
play, often containing a disguised element of indoctrination. Kindergarten
starts earlier in life and lasts longer in the day. Extracurricular
activities in elementary school consume most of their free time. Truly
free time to simply play with other children is now scheduled down-to-the-minute
and days ahead of time. Organized sports are extended to younger and
In tandem with the war on spontaneous imaginative play is the related
war on childhood innocence. If small children are force-fed the knowledge
appropriate to adolescents, the ability of children to let their imaginations
run wild is diminished. The imagination of small children is unique.
If they are as sophisticated as adolescents, their imaginations will
resemble those of adolescents. If seven-year-olds are directed in class
by their teacher to simulate sex, their imaginations will be directed
there rather than to child-appropriate interests.
The abolition of smoke-filled rooms was not just an attack on childhood
pleasure and childhood imagination; it is part of the safety obsession
that is actually an assault on liberty. When I was a child, children
simply got on their bicycles whenever they wanted to do so. Now they
are required to put on helmets, knee pads, and other armor. I remember
being hit in the head by a baseball, but it never occurred to me that
this was anything other than the normal progress of the game. Today,
the young play baseball in helmets.
The Boy Scouts of America teaches young men how to use knives, ropes,
fires, and rifles safely. Most of the rifles are classic BB guns. The
BB gun was once a standard toy of most boys in the country. The safety
fascists have diminished BB gun ownership by local laws. Most schools
no longer allow Boy Scout knives in school, and they enforce this prohibition
by draconian punishment. Kindergartens certainly no longer provide
rope for the cowboys to tie up the Indians at recess as did my kindergarten.
Boys no longer attempt to set each other’s forts on fire while
playing war as my father and his friends did.
So we deny children the exciting smell and look of a smoke-filled
room. We deny them time to invent their own games. We protect them
from the normal bruises and scrapes of play. We disarm them from the
normal boys’ knives in schools and public buildings. We plan
all their play. We fill their minds with sex. Instead, in the words
of Pink Floyd, we should “Leave those kids alone.”
The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2011
by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com.
All rights reserved.
Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the
New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in
many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles
about the law.
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.
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