Adolescents' Views on War and Peace in the Early Phases of the Iraq Conflict

Article excerpt

Adolescents in the U.S. today were in late childhood when the heinous attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93 occurred on September 11, 2001. At that time, they were exposed to extended coverage of the resulting carnage and a confused nation in a state of shock and fear, especially before anyone in the government, media, or general public was able to explain what had actually occurred. Within less than a month, this generation saw their country engaged in armed conflict in Afghanistan and seventeen months later in the Iraq War.

Our study took place in October 2003 in a parochial school within commuting distance of New York City. We sought to investigate whether 10- 14-year-old children attending a parochial school or its after-school religious programs would envision war and peace similarly to children surveyed during prior armed conflicts, specifically the Vietnam War, the first Gulf War, and the U.S. involvement in Latin America in 1986. Our group, we realized, was one that not only had been exposed to the brutality of 9/11 itself, but also to very tangible changes in American daily life. Although we were assured by the school's administration that the immediate families of the children we surveyed had not been directly involved in the attacks, these children now lived in a society whose collective discourse--from television and other mass media to the streets--had suddenly been dominated by topics such as death, suffering, heroism, war, and terrorism. The grief of their nation, which remained on high alert for months after the attacks, was all around them. Not only did it enter their homes round-the-clock through a variety of media but, particularly for children in New York State, it was conveyed subliminally. American flags and slogans such as "United We Stand" were prominently displayed everywhere in their communities: on windows, walls, consumer products and, perhaps most vividly, on thousands of cars. Wakes, commemorations, fund raisers for the victims of 9/11, along with orange alerts, road blocks, security checks, and policemen and military personnel conspicuously guarding malls, bridges, stations, airports, and reservoirs, were just a few indications of the severity of what had happened.

In light of these new realities, we asked ourselves how children would view war and peace. Specifically, we were interested in knowing whether, soon after the Afghan War and seven months after the invasion of Iraq, the children we surveyed showed comparable views to those held by the children surveyed by Tolley (1973), whose 1971 study sought to investigate young people's views of war and peace in light of the phenomenon of socialization, i.e., the process which enables individuals to acquire the knowledge, skills, and behaviors that allow them to function in society (Brim & Wheeler, 1966). Because his survey, which we closely adapted for our study, had also been used in 1986 by Roscoe, Stevenson, and Yacobozzi (1988) and by Stevenson, Roscoe, and Kennedy (1988) during the U.S. military involvement in Latin America, and subsequently, in 1991, by Schroeder, Gaier, and Holdnack (1993) shortly after the Persian Gulf War, we were also able to compare our sample's views to those of children surveyed during those periods of armed conflict.

It is important to specify that our study, comprising just slightly over 200 adolescents between the ages of 10 and 14, was much smaller in scale and scope than that of Tolley (1973), who surveyed over 2,600 children from public, private, and parochial schools in the Northeast over the span of three months. Moreover, because ours was also a highly homogeneous group, comprised of predominantly white, suburban children, who were recipients of Catholic education, either because they attended a parochial school or because they attended religious after-school programs at its parish, we did not collect personal data beyond gender and age so as not to compromise the anonymity of our participants' responses. …