Drawing of two young boys standing together , with their arms around one another

Suffer the Children of war.

In Zoe Cameron Blog by Zoe Cameron

United Nations studies tell us , ”more children are hurt and killed in today’s wars than are soldiers.”

Painting in an artists studio of a Ukrainian boy carrying a bird in a cage with murdered women behind.
Boy with a caged bird, Ukraine. Oil on board. 2023.

Children are without doubt a symbol of new beginnings , life and hope , but in times of war they mark a vanished innocence and monstrous betrayal. They are the generation lost, and those that do survive remain forever wounded, their precious childhood stolen.

Drawing of two young boys standing together , with their arms around one another
Friends. 2001. Pencil. 20x13cm. Archive.

In the Holocaust Memorial Museum USA there is a diary written by Sara Plagier ,in this quote aged 16. She and her family were trapped in Poland after the German Invasion , she later survived Auschwitz-Birkenau . Writer Sara Zyskind described those experiences in her book, Stolen Years.

“I saw two wagons full of little children drive past the open gate. Many of the children were dressed in their holiday best, the little girls with coloured ribbons in their hair. In spite of the soldiers in their midst, the children were shrieking at the top of their lungs. They were calling out for their mothers.”

It’s true that if a child does survive the horrors of war, they will hold two stories, one of the war, the other of the aftermath. Nobel prize winner for literature in the 1970’s, Isaac Bashivis wrote in support of contemporary literature which explores the subject of war, to help children to make their own judgments. ”Children think about and ponder such matters as justice, the purpose of life, the why of suffering. They often find it difficult to make peace with the idea that animals are slaughtered so that man can eat them. They are bewildered and frightened by death. They cannot accept the fact that the strong should rule the weak.” By capturing the realities of war—even fully portraying all of its ambiguities—many have argued that children are given an opportunity to consider such concepts on their own. 

Painting of children, one is making friends with a cat, another is doing a hand stand.
Children in the playground. Oil on board. 1984. Archive.

As adults we can so easily weaponise a child’s thoughts , sentencing them to life long conflict.  In her 1999 , in the book Children of Israel/Palestine, HoLaurel Holliday wrote that two “ethnically distinct peoples – both Palestinians and Israeli Jews – lay claim to the very same sand, stone, rivers, vegetation, seacoast, and mountains” and that the stories she presents show that “Israeli and Palestinian children grow up feeling that they are destined for conflict with their neighbours”. 

A painting of a Grandmother with her Granddaughter walking away in the sunshine together. In the foreground is a butterfly.
July 20th – 12th August 2018.A Grandmother with her Granddaughter count Butterflies and Moths for the annual National Survey. Detail- Oil on board. From the series ‘One Hundred painted Vows’. Ex Votive.

Dostoevsky expresses for me in his book The Brothers Karamazov , the complexity of trying to unravel the justification for a God fearing society to consent to war.

Listen! If all must suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children to do with it, tell me, please? It’s beyond all comprehension why they should suffer, and why they should pay for the harmony. […] And if it is really true that they must share responsibility for all their fathers’ crimes, such a truth is not of this world and is beyond my comprehension. Some jester will say, perhaps, that the child would have grown up and have sinned, but you see he didn’t grow up, he was torn to pieces by the dogs, at eight years old. I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.

…..I don’t want the mother to embrace the oppressor who threw her son to the dogs! She dare not forgive him ! Let her forgive him for herself, if she will, let her forgive the torturer for the immeasurable suffering of her mother’s heart. But the sufferings of her tortured child she has no right to forgive; she dare not forgive the torturer, even if the child were to forgive him! And if that is so, if they dare not forgive, what becomes of harmony? Is there in the whole world a being who would have the right to forgive and could forgive?

I don’t want harmony. From love for humanity I don’t want it. I would rather be left with the unavenged suffering. I would rather remain with my unavenged suffering and unsatisfied indignation, even if I were wrong. Besides, too high a price is asked for harmony; it’s beyond our means to pay so much to enter on it. And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And that I am doing. It’s not God that I don’t accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return him the ticket.”

A painting of a distressed child with a bloodied face with bombs going off behind him.
Detail – Field Hospital, Aleppo Syria. Oil on board 2016.From the series One Hundred painted Vows.

What price should be paid for world peace and harmony, and who pays for it ? Maybe rubbing along is as good as it gets?

My thoughts are with all the innocents caught up in this horror . I give the last word to Sara Plagier aged 15. “One day, little Rysia asked if Jews looked different before the war from the way they looked now and if they ever looked like non Jewish people. After hearing that there is no real difference between non-Jews and Jews, she contemplated this for a moment and finally asked: ‘So why do they separate us from them?’”

Painting of two girls in white, one older with wings have linked arms, they share a moment together.
Sisters. Detail. Acrylic on canvas. 2002.