War is a reality, and people die in war. Perhaps if children realized this from the start, they won't get caught up in the "glamor" or the "thrill" of war. War is not a video game. Not every soldier is a hero. The weapons of war are not playthings.
War in our contemporary world now includes children as combatants.
Throughout the last four thousand years of war as we know it, children were never an integral, essential part of any military forces in history. But the rules of war have changed. The participation of children is now not a rarity, but instead a growing feature of war.
The practice of child soldiers is far more widespread, and more important, than most realize. There are as many as 300,000 children under the age of 18 presently serving as combatants around the globe. Their average age is just over 12 years old.
This is a horrifying thought. What kind of world are we living in?
We've got to work toward change. We can start by eliminating the language of war that permeates our adult communications, for example, referring to something as a "war on"--war on crime, war on literacy, war on stupidity, etc., trivializes war. As children's writers we can try to eliminate children's book titles that have "war" in them--The War With Grandpa, The Lemonade War, The Boys Start the War. Yes, these books ultimately teach that it is better to get along, but again, it seems to trivialize war.
As parents, teachers, and librarians we can read books to kids, even the youngest, which promote nonviolence and peace. Here are four.
The Big Book for Peace. [Dutton, 1990, o.p.]
Parr, Todd. The Peace Book. [Little, Brown, 2005]
Popov, Nikolai. Why? [North-South, 2006, o.p.]
Seuss, Dr. The Butter Battle Book. [Random House, 1984]
Oddly, not once in The Peace Book is it mentioned that peace is the absence of war.
We should let our kids know that "war is not healthy for children and other living things." Alice Walker's Why War Is Never a Good Idea [HarperCollins, 2007] comes closest to doing this, but I would recommend it for a slightly older audience.
Also for a slightly older audience is World War Won, by Dav Pilkey. Pilkey offers the book on his website as a free download. Although it's a bit heavy-handed with its message, and the characters are rather cartoonish, it could be a good conversation starter.
I'll issue a challenge to you to write good books with more subtle messages so that portrayals of cooperation become as accepted as portrayals of hate, violence, and war.
Take a few moments today, Memorial Day, to remember those who fought and died in the various wars in our short history. Make an effort too, to support non-violent ends to conflict. We owe it to our kids.