When you see a child, yours or not, you have this intense, overwhelming desire to protect it, to shield it from the world. Shield it from the war, pain, and horror of everyday military life.
I’d pull a gun on anyone who’s pulling a gun on me, but I’d just stand there if a child were to do it.
The young mind is something to be preserved. The world almost instinctively draws the line of being cruel when it comes to a child. It’s the unspoken rule of evil, this far, and no further. There is a child involved.
This makes me wonder, then, what do you do when a child is being cruel to another? Say “No more!” when they bully a baby then? My parents have done an amazing job at keeping me relatively ‘innocent’, being able to know what is wrong, but knowing not to participate in it. A strong example of this is swearing. It’s quite weak, considering the grand scheme of all evil, but my family has a quite firm belief against it. That’s not to say that I have never shaken a fist or uttered a bad word of someone, we all have. The environment that I exist in, namely an infallible, decent, and highly respected high school, is one that comes with it’s fair share of swears. I often hear more swearing on one bus ride to school that I ever have in my household. It always makes me wonder why my family still tries to keep swearing a foreign concept to me. I know about it, I know what they mean, and I have the good sense not to use them… Why act any differently?
I see much of the same thing in Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful. What confuses me is the change in one’s desire to protect the young mind between this piece and Elie Wiesel’s Night. In the film, the preservation of innocence is one of the strongest factors of Guido’s life, yet that is a virtue rarely seen in Night. Why was one young mind protected when one was not? Was it the age? Was it the conditions? I believe that it was the strength of the father in both cases. In Life is Beautiful, all the horrors of the camp are not enough to prevent our protagonist from giving up on defending his son. Much to the contrary, he puts on the face of empowerment, convincing his son that it is all just a game, and thought both coincidence and sheer genius, his son makes it out of the camp, not only alive, but with all the joy that being young can bring. The cost of this, eventually, is his own fathers life. Night, on a much more depressing hand, Elie’s father lacks the power to remain optimistic, thus shattering Elie’s innocent ways and leaving him reeling while he desperately holds on to his life, all thought of innocence long gone. The harsh realities were never covered up, never sugar-coated, simply presented to him, and it it his choice now how to deal with it. His father also ends up dying at the end of the book, and Elie is there, unlike Joshua, knowing it, seeing it, accepting it. Their fathers are dead, having lived either to preserve life or innocence.
I am not taking a side, however. I do not know which one is better. Should you protect the young mind in dire situations, or allow the brunt of it onto them, so they know how to deal with it. It’s a question that I don’t think I an wholeheartedly answer.