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Edelman: A World Safe for Children in Time of War

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By Marian Wright Edelman

“Tell Me Where to Be Born”

People of the world, tell me where to be born.

If I were born in the land of “your interest” would you let me die?

People of the world, my name is Holocaust and I’m fifty plus years old.

My name is Sarajevo and I’m three years old.

My name is Bihac and I’m but a month old.

I have no name, I’m yet to be born.

People of the world, tell me where to be born, so you will not hate me one day, so you will not maim me one day, so you will not kill me one day.

People of the world, tell me where to be born.

Avideh Shashaani

“Tell Me Where to Be Born” is the title poem from a book child and peace advocate Avideh Shashaani wrote in another decade of war and crisis, but every new conflict suggests another devastating line to add. People of the world, my name is Aleppo. My name is Kabul. My name is Tigray. My name is Kyiv. As international horror, heartbreak, and outrage erupt over the newborns, children, mothers, and other civilians under attack right now, when, when, when we will we stop and create a world worthy of and fit for and safe for all our children?

Since 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ symbolic “Doomsday Clock” has been set every year, its hands either staying in place or moving closer to or farther from midnight based on the scientists’ evaluation of whether global events are pushing humanity nearer to or farther from destroying the world with dangerous technologies of our own making. In those 75 years the minute hand has moved 24 times, and for the last three years the clock has been set at 100 seconds to midnight—the closest it has ever been. On March 7 they issued an update:

“In January 2022 the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set the Doomsday Clock at 100 seconds to midnight. At that time, we called out Ukraine as a potential flashpoint in an increasingly tense international security landscape. For many years, we and others have warned that the most likely way nuclear weapons might be used is through an unwanted or unintended escalation from a conventional conflict. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought this nightmare scenario to life, with Russian President Vladimir Putin threatening to elevate nuclear alert levels and even first use of nuclear weapons if NATO steps in to help Ukraine. This is what 100 seconds to midnight looks like.”

Where could a child possibly be born today to be sure she would be safe? If I could be granted only one wish and pass only one universal law, I would dismantle the arsenals of nuclear and conventional weapons of death in the world, produce no more, and invest the trillions of saved resources in tools of life for the poor, hungry, homeless, sick, and uneducated children and people on God’s earth. How many new devastating conventional wars will rage and how close to midnight must our world get before we protect all of our children?

In his 2019 inaugural address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the gathered lawmakers: “I really do not want my pictures in your offices, for the President is not an icon, an idol, or a portrait. Hang your kids’ photos instead, and look at them each time you are making a decision.” This is a powerful message for political leaders at any moment, and a prescient and urgent message for world leaders right now. Will we all hear and heed?

Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional life.