When you play a game with Andrew, it's a given that he has to win.

Andrew is 8 years old. And it doesn't matter if the game is Uno or Monopoly or Battleship. If he doesn't dominate, life is pretty much not worth living in our house.

I wish I could say that I don't understand his intense competitive urge, but my mother has reminded me that when I was about Andrew's age and our game of Scrabble wasn't going so well for me, I'd upend the Scrabble board on our kitchen table, alphabetized tiles clattering on the Formica surface.

When I asked my son after a particularly grueling game of gin rummy recently why it was so important for him to always win, he just shrugged and smiled his crooked, slightly buck-toothed smile.

Andrew this year has also become fascinated with war stories. He has checked out armfuls of books from our public library, devouring the stories of such battles as Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal and Pearl Harbor. Since last September, he has followed the progress of our war in Afghanistan eagerly, checking to see if "we've caught that bad guy," Osama bin Laden.

He often re-creates battle scenes in his bedroom. One that struck me was his reenactment of the 1939 blitzkrieg against Poland: Andrew used his molded plastic Indian figurines on horseback to represent the valiant Poles with their noted cavalry in a futile attempt to stave off the Germans with their well-oiled combat vehicles. The sight of so many overturned figures outnumbered by the advancing conquistadors, along with another line of soldiers representing the Soviet army attacking from the east, was chilling.

"Which team won this war?" Andrew has been known to ask before reading about one battle or another.

My husband and I have tried to explain to Andrew that the teams in these wars are countries made up of real, ordinary people, and that even when a country wins a war, they lose something so much greater.

I thought of this when I came across the recent obituary of Bertie Felstead, who, at 106, was the last surviving member of the World War I British battalion that laid down its weapons to play ball with the Germans.

It was Christmas Eve 1915, and Felstead and his comrades were shivering in their trenches when, from about 100 yards away along enemy lines, they heard the strains of the Christmas carol "All Through the Night."

The British followed with a rendition of "Good King Wenceslas." Come Christmas morning, a few brave Germans poked their heads out of their trenches. Some British soldiers followed suit.

And then, somehow, a ball appeared and for a glorious, magical, surreal half-hour, before a British major shouted them all back to war, about 100 German and British boys played soccer in the vast but tiny no man's land separating the two sides.

And most remarkable of all, no one even kept score.