Which came first? Cluster bomb or the egg?

Perhaps the most chilling news besides the weather over this most sacred of Christian seasons was the report of activists who decided to substitute fake cluster bombs for Easter eggs as an object lesson for their children while the real hunt was taking place on the White House lawn.

More disturbing was the fact the youngsters made the replicas of the deadly devices themselves under parental guidance.

Even in this Washington — where extreme measures are always justified in the name of peace by those who espouse them — this protest peddled as a benign effort to educate children to the evils of these weapons strains credulity. It really takes twisted judgment to award prizes to babies for discovering the most phony bombs while hundreds of their fellow youngsters are having the time of their lives across the avenue.

This is not a rant to support the use of these insidious weapons that often maim and kill the innocent, many of them youngsters who pick them up. A cluster bomb is a big bomb with lots of little ones inside. The little ones are spewed across the landscape where they can detonate instantly or later when stepped on or moved. They are horrible, like most of the ordinance in today’s arsenals. Ridding the world of them is a noble undertaking, probably futile but admirable. But to pick the holiest season to turn one of the most peaceful and pleasant experiences for little children into a protest is just plain sick.

The annual Easter egg roll on the White House lawn has been going on for the last 137 years without being turned into an event for political statement. But in this time of increasing anger, not even such a harmless event can escape those who would exploit it. The lead sponsor of the cluster bomb hunt reportedly is the Vineeta Foundation, described as a human rights organization. The local press quoted its spokesman, Brian Hennessey, as justifying it as a “spoof” of the real thing.

“We’re not trying to hit kids over the head with this thing; we want them to have fun. We also want to bring attention to the fact that our munitions cause a lot of death and destruction to civilians, especially children,” Hennessey is quoted in a press report.

Well, obviously there was a lot of fun in crafting the replicas and even more excitement in winning prizes for things like correctly guessing how many little bombs are in a great big one. This was all so harmless no one but right wing warmongers could object. Right? Everyone else would see it as it is meant — a creative, imaginative way of bringing attention to the horror. Does it surprise you that anyone who would see this as profaning the symbols of the holiday and abusing the children misled into participating is of course right wing? Doesn’t the Left always blame the Right and the Right the Left? It’s the American way after all.

A bonus for the children, it seems, was the right to sign their creations, generally fashioned from balloons, tennis balls and clay and take them home to keep as their very own. How wonderful. That’s just what most children and certainly approving parents want, a symbol of destruction displayed in your kid’s bedroom. I’m sorry but words fail me here. Who are these people who can’t measure the potential impact on young minds?

One can only imagine the furor that would ensue if this project had been undertaken at a public school where the normal recognition of Easter is taboo just as it is for Christmas or any other religious holiday because of the separation of church and state thing. I haven’t been in an elementary school for some time. Perhaps they do color eggs or produce art class cutouts of the bunny or something as the non-prohibited symbol of the season. Certainly that prohibition would not extend to designing replicas of bombs, but most teachers would be bright enough not to even suggest it.

Might I ask that those who sponsored this ugly nonsense see what the result would be if they made replicas of young Muslims with phony sticks of dynamite attached for distribution during Islamic holy days? One doesn’t have to look back far in history to find examples of such devastating manipulation of young minds. And given today’s pressures, who knows when one of these youngsters decides that while they don’t believe in the Easter Bunny, it might be fun to build the real bomb and blow up those who do?

–DAN K. THOMASSON

(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)