I’ve been on the look out for peace stories, and they’re everywhere, sometimes in the most unlikely places. I found one surprising peace story in the heart of Boston, in the city’s historic Public Garden.
Anyone familiar with children’s literature knows of the 1941 classic Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. You may remember Mr. and Mrs. Mallards’ search for the best home for their ducklings, one that would offer safety and security–something all children need and deserve. The Mallards eventually find “Duck Island,” in the lagoon of the Boston Public Garden, the perfect place for Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack.
Boston Artist Nancy Schon memorialized Make Way for Duckling in her 1987 bronze sculptures of Mrs. Mallard and her brood waddling through the Public Garden on their way to their destination. Visit the sculpture at nearly any time of day, and you will see children lovingly petting the bronze ducklings or “riding” Mrs. Mallard. Watching the children may be a peaceful scene, but the true peace story goes deeper.
To go deeper, we need a little history in arms negotiation: In 1989, the Cold War had begun to thaw, and the Berlin Wall, long a symbol of division and dictatorship, tumbled down. President George H.W. Bush and the Soviet Union’s President, Mikhail Gorbachev began a discussion to reduce nuclear weapons, ending with the signing of the START treaty of 1991. Previously, in 1987, President Ronald Reagan had signed the INF Treaty (Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty) with Gorbachev, reducing and limiting short and medium range missiles. With these two arms negotiations, the world’s tensions relaxed. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists eased their 1981 “Doomsday Clock’s “ hands from 4 minutes to “midnight” to 17 minutes to “midnight.” In 1991, the homes of children world-wide were safer and more secure since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The year before the SALT Treaty was signed, First Lady Raisa Gorbachev visited Boston with her counterpart and guide, First Lady Barbara Bush. Together, the two women admired the Make Way for Ducklings sculpture in the Public Garden. An idea bubbled up. Not long after, artist Nancy Schon received a phone call. Could she create a second bronze sculpture of the Mallard family as part of a celebration for the signing of the START Treaty in Moscow?
Today, the Make Way for Ducklings sculpture greets the children in Boston’s Public Garden. And in Moscow, near the Kremlin, at a UNESCO World Heritage Site, another Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings greet the children of Russia. A plaque in a quiet section of Novodevichy Park explains in Russian and English: This sculpture is a gift to the children of the Soviet Union on behalf of the children of the United States as an expression of love and friendship . . .
In 2019, the United States is on the cusp of dissolving the very arms treaties that past U.S. and Russian leaders signed. We are now at an alarming two minutes to “midnight.”
No one can afford to be complacent. Not you. Not me. We have to stop this reckless pursuit of arms, nuclear and conventional, that will only increase world fear, cost trillions and end up provoking war. Perhaps a favorite children’s book and a family of ducks beloved by two adversarial nations can remind us of what we all hold dear and what we all hope for—safe and secure homes and a peaceful future for our children, their children, and theirs.
“Make Way for Diplomacy: How Boston’s “Ducklings” Helped Ease U.S.-Soviet Tensions.” WBUR radio station. https://www.wbur.org/artery/2017/03/31/russian-ducklings.
McCloskey, Robert. Make Way for Ducklings. New York: The Viking Press, 1941.
Schon, Nancy. Make Way for Nancy: A Life in Public Art. Boston: David R. Godine, 2017.
“Donald Trump Confirms US Withdrawal from INF Nuclear Treaty,” The Guardian, February 1, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/01/inf-donald-trump-confirms-us-withdrawal-nuclear-treaty
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Doomsday Clock Timeline https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/past-announcements/.
About Caren Stelson: What have I been doing since I graduated from the MFAC’s program in 2009? A lot of writing. A lot of stuff is still in draft form, or discarded, but my narrative nonfiction, Sachiko: A Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Story, published in 2016 by Carolrhoda/Lerner Publishing Group, found its place in the world. To my surprise, the book won multiple awards, including being longlisted for a National Book Award. I am grateful. I’m also grateful that my research and my friendship with Nagasaki Atomic Bomb survivor Sachiko Yasui has open my eyes to the intersection of children’s literature, nuclear war, and world peace. A pretty heavy subject, I know. But every time I’m in schools sharing this story with young people, the kids are totally engaged. Writing Sachiko’s story has made a difference. I am grateful for that too. Now I look for peace stories everywhere . . . and find them everywhere. “Make Way for Peace,” is one of those unexpected peace stories I had to write about, if only in a short article. Thanks for reading it.
Check out her website: www.carenstelson.com.