Saturday, March 19, 2011

Is There Going to Be a War?

When I was just shy of 12 years old, the British and Argentina got into a spat over the Falkland Islands. If you are a) British or b) Argentinian, this was probably a very big deal. For the rest of the world, not as much, to the point where, if you were not alive then you probably have no idea what I'm talking about. And while I don't remember much about the particulars, I do remember, as the tensions rose, a very serious conversation I had with my father.

We were walking through a museum -- I remember that distinctly -- and I told my father I was scared. I had heard on the news that there was this argument between these two countries, and the newscaster had said they were on the brink of war. From my point of view, there had never been a war in my lifetime, and I was really afraid.

Looking back, I suspect my father didn't know where to start. It's not that he couldn't explain the tension between Argentina and the UK. It's probably not even that he couldn't give some good predictions about what would happen between the two countries. The problem is that, in the second half of the twentieth century, as well as in the first half of the twenty-first, there is no good definition of what is and is not a war.

I bring this up, because the United States, along with several allies, has started air strikes in Libya. And even now, at the age of 40, I have a visceral reaction of, "Oh, no, I hope this doesn't become a war," followed by, "Wait, maybe it already is." In fact, last week my own 12-year-old asked me if the fight between Gaddafi's forces and the protester/rebel/opposition fighters was "at the point of becoming a war." I had no answer.

Technically speaking, the U.S. has not been at war since World War II. That was the last time the United States Congress exercised its constitutional power to declare war. Congress has authorized the use of military force since then, the President has ordered the use of force without Congressional authorization, and the U.S. has participated in military action authorized by the United Nations. In my lifetime, our troops and/or planes have fought in Vietnam, Cambodia, Bosnia, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan Somalia and Libya, and that's just right off the top of my head. But we have not been at war. At the Veterans Administration Hospital where I'm currently doing an internship, we talk about OEF/OIF vets, referring to Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, but not to the Iraq or Afghanistan wars.

While historians and legal scholars probably have a lot to say on the difference between declaring war and just fighting under some other authority, to a kid this is a distinction without a difference. To most young people, Vietnam looks just as war-like as World War I. Wars have an almost mythological status for kids, and probably for some adults, in which a switch is thrown and what was "fighting" becomes "The War" and everything is much, much worse.

So when a child asks whether there is going to be a war, what they are really asking is whether the conflict is going to affect their lives. Will their parents be called up. Will there be rationing. Will there be attacks on U.S. soil. Will people they know be killed. For children whose parents are in the service, the answer to "will there be a war" with Libya may well be yes. To most other kids in the United States, the answer is most likely no.

There was, in case you've forgotten, a war in the Falkland Islands in 1982. If I hadn't listened to the news, I would never have known anything about it. There was a war, but there wasn't a war the way I understood the term. In fact, I think 1982 may well have been the last time I actually had a working definition for what a war is.


Meet the Quarterback

My Photo
Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
View my complete profile

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Quarterback for Kindle