A peace message from “The Lorax”

by Rich Moniak.

(This essay is slightly adapted from the version I wrote originally wrote that was published by The Whalesong in September 2010.)

“the world was much smaller than ever before
And “over there” wasn’t so far anymore
what we did unto others washed up on our shores
the answer was hard to ignore…..the end of war” … Eric Colville, from his song The End of War

The lyrics of End of War earned Eric Colville 1st Prize in the 2009 USA Songwriting Contest. The song’s title is an understandable wish given that the United States has been at war in Afghanistan for nine years now. Except Colville wasn’t writing about Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, or any war in particular. He was imagining a world where all nations lived in peace. And Dr. Seuss was his first inspiration to write about his dream.

Like many artistic endeavors, there is more than one muse behind the work. What other voices did Colville hear? Taking a peek into his lyrics we find him paying tribute to John Lennon as some guy who

“went so far to say “try to imagine”
No heaven, no hell, and no God
No King, no country, not even possessions
We all thought he was asking a lot”

The reference was to Lennon’s song Imagine which was recorded in 1971 during the height of the Vietnam War. But would people ever give up God and country to end all wars? And who would be willing to sacrifice all their possessions? Even Lennon knew we’d say he was dreamer, but he added he’s “not the only one.”

Dr. Seuss was a dreamer too. His books challenged children to imagine a very different world through a playful mix of unique cartoon characters and rhyming language which often included silly words he invented. But more than a few were an extension of his early career as a political cartoonist.

The book that got Colville thinking was the environmental classic, The Lorax, which was published the same year that Lennon asked the world to Imagine. He had been reading it to his son while PBS was broadcasting “The War”, a seven-part documentary about World War II produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The book and film merged in his imagination to form a wish that he could explain to his son that wars were a terrible calamity of the distant past.

The Lorax didn’t end in that manner. Seuss tells his story through a character called the Once-ler whose face we never see. Speaking to a youth from the nearby city, he explains that the Lorax spoke for the Truffula trees, and the fish and wildlife that depended on its natural habitat. The Once-ler sadly admits he never listened to the Lorax’s concerns. Instead he chopped down all the trees for the sake of profit and possessions.
After the devastation was complete, the Once-ler discovered the vague message “Unless” that the Lorax left behind on a stack of rocks. It’s this question that bothered Colville. For as the Once-ler tells the young lad

“Unless someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
It’s not.”

Part of the lesson from the Lorax is that the pursuit of material possessions distracts us from caring about the impact of intense resource extraction from the land. The same is true for war. What small things can we begin to set aside to make room for working for peace? To care a whole awful lot we have to set aside our needs and start speaking for those who suffer the devastating consequences of war.

The story of the Lorax ends with a Truffula tree seed being passed to the young lad who represents our future hopes. We could also ask which world do we want to pass onto to the generations that follow, a scarred landscape the like the Once-ler left, or one in the process of healing from all the wars that that have ever been fought.

Now you may say it’s just a story. But peace can become real one story at a time. And Coville’s story is seed worthy of Lennon’s dream on the way to The End of War.

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