Just after World War II, German author Erich Kästner published the children’s book Die Konferenz der Tiere (The Animals’ Conference) as call for World Peace. The illustrations were done by Walter Trier, a cartoonist who got his start in 1909 publishing drawings in satirical newspapers along with Georg Grosz and Käthe Kollwitz. Although we are not emerging out of a world war (maybe entering into one?!) the story – and its lessons – are still pertinent.
The book starts with the Lion Alois, the Elephant Oskar, and the Giraffe Leopold getting frustrated as they hear that yet another world conference from the humans has ended without arriving at any solution for the human-made problems such as war, hunger, and ecological destruction. For them, the real casualty in this human-driven crisis are the children as they are innocent bystanders who are left with the mess. So they decide to take matters into their own hands by holding their own conference – the animals’ conference.
The message is sent across the globe to send a representative from every animal species to the conference. They also invite a child from every ethnicity to join and assist in resolving the crisis.
As it happens, the humans are holding another conference while the animals start to gather. The polarizing viewpoints amongst the humans are once again breaking down any chance to come to a resolution. With the recurring cry “We have to think about the children!” the animals start to disrupt the human conference to demand a unified resolution.
First up, mice and rats start flooding the building where the conference from the humans is held and start to devour all binders and papers, which the animals see as bureaucratic hindrances to unity. Of course, copies had been made and after a short panic the replacement documents are gathered and things continue as before. Next, the animals send swarms of moths into the building to eat all uniforms till the officials were left naked. This also gets quickly resolved and things continue on as usual. As a last stand, the animals kidnap all the children across the world and take them to a save hiding place. As every mother and father across the world grieves, the officials finally give in to the demands of the animals. The final contract states that all borders will be open, all military and weapons will be removed from this world, and that all future decisions will be made in the best interest of the children – the future of our planet.
As the world seems to once again look towards tighter border security and military build-up, this almost 70-year old proposal still seems fresh and revolutionary.