"I Am Neither General nor Diplomat": Reflections on the Persian Gulf War by Gifted Canadian Adolescents

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INTRODUCTION

Does a war ever end? When one considers the amount of attention given to the reams of post-war analysis, research, and ongoing debate, perhaps it is a reflection of the very nature of war itself that events, circumstances, and individual tragedies continue to be lived and relived. Thus, the trauma of battle remains vivid for a short period of time and lives on via inclusion within family myths for subsequent generations (Sigal & Weinfeld, 1987). It is no surprise, therefore, that although the Persian Gulf War officially ended at 8:00 A.M. (Riyadh time) on February 28th, 1991, a plethora of special journal editions (Bell, 1991; Collier, 1991), detailed analyses (Barber, 1992; Bowman, 1992), and accusations of military incompetence about this battle (Schorr, 1991; Turnley, 1992), continue to be raised. Perhaps it is to be expected that this "searching" and rekindling of issues and accusations will continue for years to come.

Attention in the professional literature has been given to the impact of these types of international conflicts on children, youth, and families. For example, Hickson (1992) examined the effects of torture and trauma on South African children and proposed a three-stage counseling intervention suitable for children who have witnessed or who have had violent acts perpetrated upon them. Denholm (1991) described many of the daily life-threatening events and stresses placed upon Palestinian children and families in the refugee camps of the Gaza Strip. D'Andrea and Daniels (1992) have considered the various phases experienced by children whose parents were assigned to military service in the Persian Gulf War. As a result, they recommended that when designing interventions to assist these children in coping with change and the stress of separation and uncertainty, close attention be paid to developmental considerations such as continuity, personal confirmation, and coping with contradictions in life.

Adolescents Beliefs about the Potential for War and Conflict

Much research has focused on the actual effects of war-related injury and traumatic experience. During the 1980s, a succession of studies took a different route by examining the impact of potential nuclear war on adolescents (Blackwell & Gessner, 1983; Escalona, 1982; Schwebel, 1982). In general, adolescents demonstrated limited understanding of the nuclear arms "race" and the potential global impact of war, if it did eventuate. As Roscoe and Goodwin's (1987) study of 357 college students attests, "young people are both uninformed and apparently disconcerted by the issues of nuclear arms and nuclear war" (p. 810). The possibility of a major international war nevertheless stimulated in youth a sense of powerlessness, hopelessness, and concern about the survival of the planet (Thompson 1985).

More recently, Knoblauch (1992) conducted a series of individual interviews with 27 Australian adolescents about the Persian Gulf War in order to determine the possible impact upon their lives. Results indicate that after the war had officially ended, these adolescents had a greater knowledge of world events and geography of this specific region, and held a belief that the world would be significantly altered during the months following the war. Also, during the battle, intense and prolonged dialogue occurred with family and peers. However, it was added that "young people" [in this study] experienced immediate personal and widespread safety concerns and profound unease, including, in some instances, a perceived future powerlessness to participate in shaping their world." (p. 45)

In the normal course of development, adolescents need to address a series of developmental tasks. These include the need to establish and maintain peer relations, experience decision making and consequences of choices, assume responsibility, plan for the future, be academically challenged, and gain a sense of personal control (Havinghurst, 1951). …