Monday, September 30, 2013


Since the inception of our nation, we have declared war eleven times.

 The first declared war  was with Great Britain in 1812.

We have also been involved in undeclared wars--we have engaged in combat, or other military actions  based on resolutions to strike or to respond to imminent danger to us or one of our allies.

We are currently involved in several arenas...and still ...out of the corner of our eyes we can see Syria.

How do  we talk about war?
How do we explain war?
How do we begin these conversations?

Like many situations---it is easy to get lost in statistics, data, and reports.  It is easy to lose sight of the brave men and women serving this country-- giving their time, effort, and lives for our protection, our rights, and our freedoms.  It easy to forget the families and friends they leave behind.

We can talk strategies, politics, and  priorities. Or we can have the even harder conversations  about morality and humanity.

But ultimately, the details don't matter. The names and countries, the reasons and the rivals are interchangeable.

There are times when  we must look past all of this to the core --to the  naked human story, told in all its devastating horror and potential beauty .
Once upon a time  this event happened to these people and... What did we do?

Parables help us to think past the news to nuggets of truth.
And several books present us with parables of war that do this masterfully.

Eve Bunting's eloquent, yet simple tale, Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust , reminds us of the importance of vigilance and voice. As animals are taken away by the  Terrible Things, first the ones with feathers, then each other animal group in turn, those left are thankful it was not them... and do nothing.

Her book echoes the powerful statement by Pastor Martin Neimoller, a Protestant minister whose oft-quoted  poetic address the German church in 1946 ended as follows:

When they came for me there was no one left to speak out.   
 Click here to read several versions of Niemoller's complete statement.

 The parable, Feathers and Fools features peacocks and swans who choose to see differences rather than similarities.  Mem Fox depicts the tragic results of rumors of war, amassing defense weapons on both sides and offers an alternative perspective that leads to peace.  

Who is our enemy?  And what is the point of war?

Davide Cali and Serge Bloch force us to contemplate these questions in The Enemy, an anti-war fable, as they remind us that we fight not some faceless entity, but other human beings.

The enemy is there but I have never seen him.
Every morning, I shoot at him. Then he shoots at me.
We both stay hidden the rest of the day, waiting.

Walter Dean Myers in his more realistic, yet poetic, account also forces us to consider our enemies, as  a young US soldier comes face to face with his equally young Vietnamese counterpart in Patrol: An American Soldier in Vietnam.

Myers has penned several additional realistic novels about war for older readers, including Fallen Angels and Sunrise Over Fallujah.

Why are we fighting?
How can we end the fighting?

In The War by Anais Vaugelade, this is the question.

The Reds and The Blues were at war.
Each morning, the solders walked  to the battlefield.
Each evening , the survivors brought home
the wounded and the dead,
The war had lasted for so long that no one
                                   could remember why it had  begun.
Prince Fabien devises a plan to end the war by forcing the two sides to work together against a common enemy and in the process to usher in peace.

When is the time to go to war?
When is war a good idea?

According to Alice Walker the answer is Never!  In  her powerful and thought-provoking poem, Why War Is Never a Good Idea, War is personified.

Though War speaks
Every language
It never knows
What to say
To frogs...
...War has bad manners
War eats everything
In its path
& what
It doesn't
What does War say to us?
How do we talk about war?

And finally,  no discussion about how to initiate conversations about war would be complete without acknowledging the role of poetry.  Every war, every conflict has generated poems by  soldiers, leaders and citizens on all sides.  Poetry has been written by and about  the victors, the conquered, the wounded and the survivors.

Every war has is poetry.

Lee Bennett Hopkins has collected  poetry  speaking of eight different wars by poets you know, and some not so well known, in America at War. The Prologue wishes war could only rage upon the battlefield of the page. The Epilogue reminds us of the camouflaging language we use to talk about war in the poem Vocabulary Lesson.

Click here to read both the Prologue and  Epilogue poems.

What are the rhythms and rhymes of war?
What figurative language contains our conflicts?

How do we begin to talk about war?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

What is your stance on war? 

What solutions would you offer to bring about peace in our world?

Write a parable illustrating your ideas.

Write a poem expressing your views.

Write a letter to a leader of a particular country explaining your views and position and plan for peace.

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