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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The Full Suburban: If mothers were in charge, would wars ever happen?

Serhii, father of teenager Iliya, cries on his son’s lifeless body lying on a stretcher at a maternity hospital converted into a medical ward in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 2.  (Evgeniy Maloletka/Associated Press)
By Julia Ditto For The Spokesman-Review

It was the last picture that got to me – the last in a series of five photos captured by photographer Evgeniy Maloletka as he covered the fighting in Ukraine. The other pictures had been horrifying, to be sure: A little girl, just 6 years old, was at a grocery store with her parents in Mariupol, Ukraine, when Russian shelling started.

She was hit, although the pictures don’t offer any explanation as to how or where her little body was injured. In the first picture, all you see is a medic frantically doing CPR on the girl in the back of an ambulance, her mother staring desperately into the camera with her hand over her mouth, blood smeared on her face and hat.

The next shows the girl’s father, covered head to toe in blood, weeping as he crouches next to his daughter in the ambulance. Next, we see the little girl being lifted onto a gurney, then doctors at the hospital performing more CPR, one of them crying.

But it was the last picture – the one taken after all the medics had left, realizing there was nothing more to be done; the one where her distraught mother and father were doubtless just outside the frame, entering into the first few moments of their horrific new reality; the one where her lifeless body was lying alone on a gurney in a hospital room, her tiny legs sticking out from under the bloodstained pink coat that the medical team had used as a covering for her body.

That’s the picture that brought out of me a guttural cry that I wasn’t expecting. Because when I saw that picture, it looked to me just like my own youngest child when he has kicked his covers off in his sleep and I’ve crept into his bedroom to cover him with a blanket before heading to bed. And it hit me right in my mother heart: those little lifeless legs of the girl in the photo – they belonged to somebody’s baby, somebody’s dream, somebody’s everything. And I cried.

As I type this, Ukraine is still holding back Russian forces. Kyiv has not yet fallen. Who knows what the situation will be like by press time. And while I don’t know all the politics surrounding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I do know what it is to be a mother – to have your whole entire world wrapped up in 10 little fingers and 10 little toes.

And I can’t help but think what the world would be like if it were run by the mothers – the women with babes in arms and sons and daughters they have nurtured to the brink of adulthood. Get those women on the councils, in the presidencies and places of leadership and see how many pointless wars are started where the body count of their children is the currency by which the winner will be determined. I don’t believe mothers would ever stand for it.

American theologian Neal Maxwell said, “When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses?”

I think of the mother in those photographs, bereft of her little daughter for just a handful of days by now. I see the anguish in her eyes, and I feel solidarity with her. I feel wrenching in my heart as if her daughter was my daughter.

I feel the same wrenching when I see a picture of a 3-year-old boy lying dead on a beach after his family’s boat capsized while they were fleeing fighting in Syria. I feel it when I see a black-and-white photo of a Japanese child screaming among the rubble following the bombing of Hiroshima. And I feel it when I see a picture of a child in Sudan starving to death because of famine made infinitely worse by war.

It’s my opinion that war is sometimes necessary, when good and evil and life and liberty are at stake. And I know that for generations, parents have been making the ultimate sacrifice of sending their sons and daughters off to war, many never to return. But I wonder, if mothers were in charge, would most wars have ever happened in the first place? Because when the precious price of war is your children, it’s just too high a price.

Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and a random menagerie of farm animals in Spokane Valley. She can be reached at