Letters to Jessica
Letter Two - Wizards of America

February 2nd, 1987

Dear Jessica,

Here is how grown-ups play the terrible game of Wizards of America. I hope you decide not to play. There are grown-ups who pretend to speak with the voice of Wizards of America. They speak in a solemn voice just like Oz and the people are afraid and tremble. But just like Oz these grown-ups are only little, common men hiding behind screens. Just like Oz they are humbugs.

To see why grown-ups like this game of wizards so much and how much fun it is, pretend that you woke up one morning and everyone was tricked into believing that you are the Wizard of Alaska. You sisters, your friends, your Mom and Dad, your teacher and the neighbors would have to do just what you told them to do. It would be a lot like playing Simon Says. Doesn't that sound like fun?

Of course as in many pretend games there are certain magic words that must be used. In the game Simon Says, the magic words are Simon Says: Simon says take two steps forward. In the game of pretend grown-ups are playing you must speak in a solemn voice like all wizards and tell people it's really the State of Alaska speaking: The State says take two steps forward. It's sort of like using a handpuppet. Never say Wizard of Alaska because that will give the game away and many will stop playing. You must say the magic words, The State says.

You might use your wizard voice and say, The State says there will be year round summer vacation! You must call this a law. That's another important magic word. Grown-ups are fond of saying It's the law. Right or wrong doesn't matter.

You would have to be very careful because grown-ups take this game very seriously and sometimes they hurt one another while they play. It is the most important thing in their life. More important than good and right and justice is to them.

You might want to do something very nice for all your friends. You might say, No one will make anything but milk and cookies to eat. That sounds like fun, doesn't it! But remember everyone thinks you're the Wizard of Alaska. If Grandma Mary invites you to dinner and decides to make some of her delicious stew and biscuits with cake and ice cream for dessert, the police might come and stop her and maybe put her in jail. The police would know it isn't right to put a grandmother in jail for making a good dinner. But they would rather play the game than do what is right. It's the law, you know, and the State says. By trying to do something nice for your friends you do something bad to Grandma Mary. This is only one reason why playing wizards is a terrible game.

Of course it's only grown-ups that get to be Wizard of Alaska or Wizard of America. They take turns being wizard. First one tries it, then another. But no matter which common man is playing the wizard everyone else pretends he is great and terrible. Everyone knows he is a only a common man and a humbug, but they don't say a thing because that would ruin the game! Most grown-ups would be very unhappy to see the game end. They wouldn't have any idea what to think or do.

When grown-ups speak and act for the state they are called many strange wizard names. Some are called senators or congressmen. Some are called governors or Presidents. Some are called lawyers or judges. Some are called policemen. Each of these men or women pretend to be powerful wizards who speak and act for the great invisible wizards. These people don't mean to do bad things. They try to do good things. But even their good things always turn out to be bad for somebody. And they never stop believing in wizards. That is not good because wizards are not real, they are only pretend. Grown-ups should know better. They should live in the real world, but they don't.

There are many, many other parts to play in the game. The lowest players are called citizens. The very lowest citizens are called first graders. Your Mom and Dad may be citizens. You can ask them. Part of the game is to pretend that citizens have all the power, but to act like wizards really have all the power. That way responsibiltiy for what humbugs do is shared by all grown-ups. Wizards' power is only pretend, but if someone makes believe hard enough then their power seems very real. Children who learn the rules and play the game very well can hope to be a wizard someday themselves. I was once the kind of wizard called an officer. I was a captain. When I was sent to first grade they began to teach me the rules for the game of Wizards of America. One of the very first rules is that everyone must pledge allegiance to the flag and to the republic. You may already have been taught to say this pledge:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Everyone knows that first graders have no idea what pledging allegiance means. They want you to do it first, then many years later you will find out what it means. But I'll tell you now so you can decide if you really want to or not.

Pledging allegiance means that you will do whatever any wizard tells you to do, even after you grow up yourself. Pledge means the same as promise. Allegiance means having to do what you are told. Like obeying your parents. So pledging allegiance is a promise to obey some humbug who you have never met no matter what dumb thing he tells you to do.

Allegiance is pledged to the flag because it is the symbol for the whole game. Just like a picture of an apple pie is a symbol for a real apple pie. The picture of the pie makes you think of how a pie looks, tastes and smells. The flag makes you think of how the game is played, what your part is in the game, and all the powerful wizards of the past, like George Washington. You probably have already heard of Washington. He helped invent the game of United States many years ago. He was one of the most powerful wizards and one of the best players ever.

The flag stands for the republic. Republic is another word for the United States, the biggest Wizard in America. George Washington and the other men who started the game did not pledge allegiance to the wizards because they made them up and knew they were only pretend. They had not been tricked. They all pledged allegiance to God. They promised to obey God's laws rather than the wizards. The game was not nearly so bad then.

You and I were tricked into pledging allegiance to humbugs because grown-ups know they must have new players all the time or else the game will stop. If the game stops all the wizards will have to go back to being common men, just like the Wizard of Oz did. Then, if they tell others what to do, people will just laugh!

To make the game more interesting the Wizards of America have tricked all the people into believing that there is a wicked Witch of the east and a wicked Witch of the West. This scares all the citizens and makes them believe even harder in the power of their wizards.

The wicked Witch of the East is called Russia. The wicked Witch of the West is called China. Part of the trick is that the wizards want these witches to be feared, but they still help them as much as they can to be big and strong. That's different from Oz who wanted the wicked witches to be destroyed so the people would be safe.

Both Russia and China are green and beautiful countries just like America, with all the good things needed to be happy. They each have their own games of Wizard going. Their's is played almost exactly like ours. They think America is the wicked witch. Sometimes America is a wicked witch.

To play Wizards of America you must have glasses like the ones Oz gave to all his people. But they don't make everything look green like in the Emerald City. These glasses make everything in America seem to be very nice and good, with liberty and justice for all, like in the pledge of allegiance. Making people say the pledge over and over again when they are children helps them to pretend everything is just fine when it isn't. The pledge of Allegiance is the first big trick grown-ups play on children.

Liberty means that as long as you don't hurt anyone, no one can tell you what to do. Justice means that if you do hurt someone you must make it right. You may even be punished. Liberty and justice means that as long as you're doing good and not evil, no one can tell you what to do, not even humbugs.

Of course you can't play Wizards of America and have liberty and justice, too. Wizards wouldn't be wizards if citizens didn't do as they were told. So part of the trick is to make everything look like liberty and justice in America when it really is the same as all the other countries, like Russia and China.

Well, now you know some of the tricks grown-ups play on children and why they do it. Humbugs of America and humbugs of Russia and humbugs of all the other countries don't ever want to stop playing. For wizards it is a very exciting and fun game. And they get lots of money, too. But it is a very dangerous game and many people are hurt. Many are even killed. Many of my friends were hurt and killed when we played wizards in a far away country called Viet Nam. I played captain, others played sergeant, major, general, and lots more. The people of that country are short and speak a funny language. They are very friendly. Many of them were hurt or killed, too. It makes me very sad when I think of what we did. Sometimes I can't help crying when I remember. That's one reason why I have quit playing. It is a very bad game. I hope you never start playing. Grown-ups who still play make-believe are sick and should see a doctor. Their minds are not well.

Next time I'll tell you what I decided to do instead of playing Wizards of America. Maybe you will want to do it, too. Bye for now!


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