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ACTIVITY: Seeing the Human Consequences of War





A father shared this story with us about his 9-year-old's response to a video about Airborne Rangers -- "Dad, it's OK.  They only kill the enemy.”  When his father explained that the "enemy" included persons like himself, his friends, and his grandparents, he responded, "When they drop those things [bombs], they only fall on tanks." 


This same phenomenon of not seeing the enemy as real persons was magnified greatly during the Persian Gulf War.   Instead of seeing dead people on the receiving end of our bombs, we were shown the destruction of reportedly military targets by laser-guided bombs, with the precision and excitement of the video games in front of which our young people spend hours.   Government and military censorship insured that most Americans saw very little of the human suffering -- 150,000+ Iraqi deaths, the bombing of the city of Baghdad to the point of "near apocalyptic" destruction, as described by a United Nations team investigating the damage at the end of the war.  Language was also used to shield us from these human consequences.  Civilian deaths became known as "unintended collateral damage.”  Civilian deaths in Afghanistan during the US “War on Terrorism” were kept from US citizens even more than in Iraq.


Every government and military knows it has a harder time convincing its soldiers and citizens about the rightness of its war policy if people see the so-called enemy as human beings like themselves and become aware of their suffering.  While young children should not be overwhelmed by graphic images of war death and suffering, they do need to begin to see and feel and respond to that reality.  Some of the books and videos about Hiroshima, for instance, are overly graphic for young children, but others are appropriate as children move into the middle grades.  You have to know where your children are and what they can handle.




Eve Bunting’s THE WALL (the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington) and Eleanor Coerr’s SADAKO AND THE THOUSAND PAPER CRANES (on Hiroshima) are especially poignant stories for middle and upper grade students.  See “Resources” below and the activity on Sadako  for other possibilities.




Invite students to share their feelings about the story, perhaps in writing or in a picture, in pairs or small groups, before whole group sharing.




Stories of families impacted by the terrorist attacks on September 11, of Muslim or Arab Americans in the US during the “War on Terrorism,” of Afghan families, of immigrants and refugees of war, of soldiers’ families all help students begin to see the human consequences of war.




Whether or not they would all be mailed, it is very helpful for students to express their sorrow, their concern, and their prayers for the victims of terrorism and war whose stories they have learned. 




In addition to letters and prayers, students need to consider a variety of other ways that they can respond to victims of terrorism and war.  See the actions listed on AC 129, 145)  and bring in others that have emerged around the specific war or tragedy being studied.





  • Eve Bunting, THE WALL (New York: Clarion Books, 1990; 30 pp.; cloth $13.95), a beautifully illustrated story of a father and young son visiting the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC and finding the boy's grandfather's name.

  • THE VOICELESS VICTIMS PROJECT (Institute for Intercultural Understanding, 620A Distillery Commons, Louisville, KY 40206), photos and stories of victims of war, many in the Middle East.

  • The story of SADAKO AND THE THOUSAND PAPER CRANES is a wonderful place to start for all elementary school children.  She was a real person victim of the bombing of Hiroshima, but she was much more than her suffering.  She was a peacemaker who continues to inspire other children to be peacemakers.  The visuals in Eleanor Coerr's book are not disturbingly graphic but nonetheless convey the reality that she suffered and died.  See resources listed with Sadako Sasaki.

  • By way of some contrast, Toshi Maruki's HIROSHIMA NO PIKA (New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1982) is much more graphic.  But because the visuals are children's drawings of the bombing and its aftermath, the book is worth sharing and discussing with grades 5-8.

  • Yukio Tsuchiya, FAITHFUL ELEPHANTS (Houghton Mifflin, 1988) is a moving and true story of what happened to the animals in Japan because of the fear of being bombed.

  • Marion Bauer, RAIN OF FIRE (Clarion Books, 1983) is the story of a younger brother confused by his older brother's silence after returning from World War II and the strange talk about the "rain of fire" on Hiroshima.

  • Roberto Innocenti, ROSE BLANCHE (Creative Education, 1985) is the story of a young German girl who becomes involved in a war she does not understand.

  • Excellent videos for mature youth in grades 6-8, though all are graphic and emotionally challenging in part, include Platoon (on the Vietnam War) and Saving Private Ryan (on World War II).


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