Children & War
by Margaret Peterson Haddix
One of my uncles served in the Vietnam War. I was so young at the time that I don’t have a single memory of being told that fact until after he was safely home.
Somehow, though, I think we kids knew the adults were keeping secrets and hiding fears. At gatherings on that side of the family, I remember playing a lot of games where the whole point was to eavesdrop on the adults without the adults knowing we were there.
Later, long after the Air Force decided to use my uncle’s skill as a pilot to have him fly into hurricanes instead of war zones, I can remember trying to puzzle out what it meant to be at war, and how that connected with everything else I knew about the world. How could my kind, loving, devoutly Christian uncle have been involved in any endeavor that involved killing people? How could adults like my parents—who were firmly anti-violence when it came to, say, telling me not to hit my brother when I was mad at him—be part of a country that sent soldiers off to kill total strangers on the other side of the world?
You don’t have to know much about the Vietnam War to understand that, even as a little kid, I was partly just picking up on the mood of the country. By the time I was old enough to be aware of it, a lot of people were questioning the justification for that war.
But war is always an odd thing. By chance, the week the Iraq War started in 2003, my family was taking a trip through the southern part of the United States. We toured Fort Sumter and other Civil War sites by day, and then at night we’d go back to our hotel and watch the breathless news reports about bombings in Baghdad. I can remember thinking, “What are we doing, starting another war? Wars don’t end. It’s been nearly 150 years since the Civil War, and a lot of those scars are still open wounds.”
And now it’s fourteen years later, and it feels even more as though the United States is still fighting the Civil War.
After a war, it’s always hard to know how to remember it—and especially what to teach children about it. How does a society balance the desire to remember its own history with the need to avoid perpetuating the hate? Or rekindling the conflict?
In my series, Children of Exile, I wanted to depict kids coping with an extreme answer to those questions. In the first book (also called CHILDREN OF EXILE), a very innocent, sheltered girl named Rosi is forced to grapple with questions about humanity’s past—and about her own nature. In the newly released second book, CHILDREN OF REFUGE, a more jaded boy named Edwy struggles with difficult choices of his own.
I gave both Rosi and Edwy urgent reasons to wonder about a lot of the same questions I’d pondered as a kid: When is violence justified? If you decided you were a pacifist, what would you do if someone you loved was under attack? Are you a coward if you don’t fight for what you believe in? How would you decide if a cause was worth dying for? Or killing for?
It is strange to think about the fact that every single kid born in the United States in the past sixteen years has grown up in a country that’s at war. It’s exceedingly strange that Americans don’t very often seem to think or talk about the fact that we’re at war. I have another book called THE ALWAYS WAR, which came out in 2011, and a year or two ago I visited a middle school where a girl told me how stunned she was by the set-up of that book: “Can you imagine living in a place where your country’s been at war for your entire life? Wouldn’t that be weird?”
The girl was eleven or twelve, and she was describing the circumstances of her own life and her own country’s situation exactly. And she didn’t even realize it.
I don’t fault that girl for being so… what would you call it? Ignorant? Oblivious? Unaware? It’s a natural tendency for adults to want to protect kids from certain unpleasant realities, and that’s probably what had happened to her. With very young children, that’s completely necessary.
But by the time kids are eleven or twelve, they can understand that a lot of topics are complicated, and a lot of questions about those topics have complex answers.
They also need to know about those complexities, to fully understand concepts like courage and wisdom. And maybe to understand forgiveness and redemption as well.
After my uncle retired from the Air Force, he became extremely involved in an organization that united Christian military personnel from countries all over the world. When I first heard of that group, I thought it seemed like a contradiction. Why would people whose professional lives involved preparing for or fighting wars be so dedicated to working together—sometimes with people they’d once seen as enemies—in order to espouse the beliefs of a religion that considers peacemakers the children of God?
But as I heard more about my uncle’s work with that group, it made more sense to me. Who can understand the value of peace better than those who have known war?
Is the converse of that, if we don’t tell kids the brutal truths about war, they’ll never understand peace either?
After Edwy is smuggled off to Refuge City to stay with his brother and sister, Rosi, Bobo, and Cana are stuck alone—and in danger—in Cursed Town in the thrilling follow-up to Children of Exile from New York Times bestselling author, Margaret Peterson Haddix.
It’s been barely a day since Edwy left Fredtown to be with his parents and, already, he is being sent away. He’s smuggled off to boarding school in Refuge City, where he will be with his brother and sister, who don’t even like him very much. The boarding school is nothing like the school that he knew, there’s no one around looking up to him now, and he’s still not allowed to ask questions!
Alone and confused, Edwy seeks out other children brought back from Fredtown and soon discovers that Rosi and the others—still stuck in the Cursed Town—might be in danger. Can Edwy find his way back to his friends before it’s too late?
About the Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix grew up on a farm near Washington Court House, Ohio. She graduated from Miami University (of Ohio) with degrees in English/journalism, English/creative writing and history. Before her first book was published, she worked as a newspaper copy editor in Fort Wayne, Indiana; a newspaper reporter in Indianapolis; and a community college instructor and freelance writer in Danville, Illinois.
She has since written more than 40 books for kids and teens, including Running Out of Time; Double Identity; Uprising; The Always War; the Shadow Children series; the Missing series; the Children of Exile series; the Under Their Skin duology; and The Palace Chronicles. She also wrote Into the Gauntlet, the tenth book in the 39 Clues series. Her books have been honored with New York Times bestseller status, the International Reading Association’s Children’s Book Award; American Library Association Best Book and Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers notations; and numerous state reader’s choice awards. They have also been translated into more than twenty different languages.
Haddix and her husband, Doug, now live in Columbus, Ohio. They are the parents of two grown kids.