Thursday, October 3, 2013


 The dead tell no tales.

War dead are no different.

But still we come to know their stories.
Their stories are intertwined with the stories of the still living.

War stories are told by the victors and the conquered, the victims and the survivors.
The events are narrated by the perpetrators, as well as  the observers.

Wars beget stories of heroism, cowardice, cruelty, and  creativity.
In  the aftermath, we learn of decisions and actions that made a difference and surprised even those doing the acting.

In a  previous post, we considered ways to begin conversations about wars--we considered parables and fables about war as one way to get the conversation started.  See Wars and Rumors of War.

Another way to initiate these hard conversations is to consider stories of war-- stories of individuals and small groups living in the context of war, observing war, or ultimately making decisions that have far-reaching effects.

What would you do if...?
This is the question we must ask ourselves as we meet our potential selves in these stories.

 A small Jewish girl whose family has been destroyed except for her sister,  has escaped the Ghetto and must decide if and how she can help as her sister and friends devise a plan to smuggle food to those still behind the Warsaw walls. Her relationship with the many stray cats in the town square provides a brave and perfect answer in The Cats In Krasinkski Square by Karen Hesse.

How do children experience war?
How do children process the events and circumstances they don't understand?

Rose  lived in a small German town and may not have understood the war, but saw enough to know that something terrible was happening around her.German soldiers were hidden in her basement, and grown-ups were not giving answers. She witnessed a boy being taken away.   She followed the truck,  to a fence--coming face to face with children in a concentration camp.  From that point, she begins to eat less and hoard food to take to the fence.  In Rose Blanche by Robert  Innocenti, her story is told in child's language and from her limited perspective, while carefully detailed illustrations tell a bigger more mature story.

How do children make a difference? 

Brundibar is a Czech opera with a libretto by Adolf Hofmeister and score by Hans Krasa.   It was performed  fifty-five times by child prisoners in Terezin, a Nazi concentration camp under the direction Hans Krasa.   The opera performances  were part of a carefully staged display by the Nazis to show that the camp was not as bad as  people thought. .

Tony Kushner has retold the opera  and Maurice Sendak brought the story of Brundibar--- of  the  children defeating the organ grinder and bully  Brundibar-- to life with  his characteristic illustrations.

For more information about Brundibar at Terezin, including how Sendak became involved, music selections and other related resources,  click here.

Prison camps change people.  Those who were constantly busy now sit idle, with no control over their lives. As these conditions made people forget who they are and become despondent, snappy and disrespectful, one father in a Japanese interment camp decided they needed baseball.    In Baseball Saved Us  by Ken Mochizuki, we read how the father and  his son built a diamond and organized a league that lifted spirits and  and united  the camp 

How do we lift our spirits and the spirits of others in times of war?

One of the most frequent ways we have learned about war is through diaries.

Most high school students are familiar with Anne Frank's diary , and more recently Zlata's Diary.  Stolen Voices: Young People's War Diaries, from World War I to Iraq Stolen Voices edited by Zlata Filipovic and Melanie Challenger provide us with true war stories from our most recent wars.

What can children teach us about war? about peace?

And finally, we must remember that war affects not only people, but every living thing.

When  bombs were dropping on Tokyo, the city worried what would happen if the bombs landed on the zoo and cages opened.  Dangerous animals would roam the streets.  The army commanded that  all of the animals be killed.  Faithful Elephants: A True Story of Animals, People, and War by Yukio Tsuchiya recounts the story of three of those animals and their trainer.

During the bombing of Iraq in 2003  a pride of lions did escape  the Baghdad Zoo. In Pride of Baghdad the story of these confused and hungry lions is told.  Through their eyes, graphic novel writers Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon show us the devastating effects of war on nature.

How far does war reach?

Who tells  the stories of war?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Think about the wars and conflicts in which our country is currently involved.
How do these wars affect you and your world?

Who is telling the stories of these wars?

Write a reflection, narrative, essay, or poem on war and its far-reaching effects.

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