In November 1983, at the height of the cold war, PBS aired a special series of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The topic? War. Known as the Mister Rogers’ conflict series, the quintet of episodes tried to explain battle to kids. Bombs were discovered; puppets discussed the nature of conflict; tensions mounted. But then the episodes disappeared.
After their first airing, the conflict series was removed from syndication and future release without much explanation. But because the internet is the internet, the episodes, written by Rogers, took on an air of legend, a pop culture curiosity brought up by diehards on message boards. Did those episodes actually happen? Did that really exist? Well, suspicions were confirmed last week when the first 2 of the 5 episodes mysteriously appeared on YouTube.
Titled 1521 and 1522, the episodes were posted on March 20th by the anonymous YouTube account TROG SLEEP NOW and stayed up for about a week. Is TROG some vigilant citizen who thinks Mister Rogers allegory, broadcast by PBS, needed to be unearthed in present times or just an avid fan who struck gold? Who knows. In any case: And the unearthed episodes serve as an important, kid-friendly allegory about the nature of war.
It all starts off like most Mister Rogers episodes — he sings, puts on a cardigan, and visits a music shop with Handyman Negri. But when Negri heads to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe things get complicated. King Friday the 13th wants to buy a record player as a gift for the school children. He soon becomes distracted by a rumor about an unusual amount of parts coming out of Corney’s factory for the neighboring community of Southwood.
What could these parts be for? King Friday sends Negri to retrieve one to find out. The story the.cuts to kids in class, conveniently learning about war. While most are horrified to learn what war is and that people actually participate in it, Prince Tuesday raises the counterpoint, “But what if you win? You get to take everything the losers have!” Tough but fair, kid.
Prince Tuesday returns home from school to find his father mulling over the possible bomb part. With the perfectly poor timing of most kids, the Prince takes this opportunity to ask dad about war. The King shares an anecdote about his forefathers dealing with war, before briefly singing There Are Many Ways To Solve A Problem. It’s apparent, however, that the puppet king is struggling to believe that. His focus shifts to the suspected bomb part before Trolley arrives to break the tension.
Mister Rogers then raises an important question: Was the King so preoccupied about the idea of war that he imagined all that in one little part? Fade to black.
The second episode picks up where they left off. King Friday instructs telephone operator Miss Paulificate to ask Corney verbatim: “Might this be a part of a bomb?”
Of course, it might be. Miss Paulificate writes this down, but context is lost and the King interprets this as “Southwood is making a million bombs.” King Friday orders Negri to get parts from Corney and enlist the community help to them build a million and one bombs. It’s like Dr. Seuss’ The Butter Battle Book but far less subtle.
Clearly troubled, Handyman tells Henrietta Pussycat and X the Owl that he needs their help making bombs. Owl thinks they’re stuffed with presents. But nope, they’re not. Still, he agrees to help.
The voice of reason, Lady Elaine is pissed they can no longer afford a gift for the school because they’re bankrupted by defense (sound familiar?) and uses that anger as motivation to figure out what the hell is going on. Mister Rogers then sings What Do You Do With The Mad That You Feel? — the same poem Fred Rogers delivered the Senate in 1969. He connects the complicated concept of war to something kids can grasp — their anger and how to do something constructive with it. “It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong, and be able to do something else instead, and think … this song.”
And that wraps the second episode. Whew.
According to the Neighborhood Archive, subsequent episodes show puppet children learning about gas masks and air-raids. But in the end, of course, everything works out. By the fifth episode, everyone learns that Southwood was buying parts to build a bridge, not a bomb. The town rejoices.
“We proved to each other and to other people that we can talk about all kinds of things, and that’s because we care about one another,” Rogers says in a clip from episode 1525. He then urges the kids to discuss war at home: “I hope you’ll talk with the grown ups you love about how they feel about things like war and peace, being angry and loving, that way you’ll be able to find out what the history of your family is, and all the many ways they’ve celebrated peace in their lives.”
The re-discovered series proves the magic of Rogers: one of his era’s most radical pacifists, he never shied away from explaining big topics to little kids. Because he knew that the seeds of understanding needed to be planted early. Is his allegory subtle? No. But that doesn’t make it any less effective.
Prior to TROG’s rogue posting of these videos, that 5-minute clip of the series’ conclusion was once the only record of it. Now, despite the original post being taken down, additional episodes popped up. Many YouTubers expressed hope in the comment section that rogue TROG had the other 3 episodes and will release them eventually. Here’s hoping they do to. Fred Rogers’ moving message will likely be just as important for kids now as it was for those in 1983.