Children find peace in the art of war

Courtney Cook

Kathy Walker of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Kent sits in the sanctuary where Understanding War, Visualizing Peace is exhibited. Walker collected the works from children in Israel and Ireland. CAITLIN PRARAT | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: DKS Editors

A 6-year-old from Israel describes war as a man who fights in order to bring peace.

An 18-year-old American describes a soldier in war as “just following orders.”

An 11-year-old from Northern Ireland describes peace as not really possible, but worth pursuing.

People’s conceptions of war and peace vary based on age, religion, nationality and personal experience. Adults have abilities to express personal beliefs, but some of the most insightful opinions – those of children – are rarely heard.

Kathy Walker and Maureen Blankemeyer, professors in the human development and family studies at Kent State, composed an exhibit of children’s drawings from different nations that conceptualize peace and war. The exhibit was on display last week at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent and last year at the Symposium on Democracy at Kent State.

“My primary purposes for sharing these drawings (are) to give a voice to the children who drew them and to stimulate dialogue among those who view them,” Walker said.

Walker and Blankemeyer, along with graduate students from the School of Human Development and Family Studies, compiled close to 400 drawings from Northeastern Ohio, Northern Ireland and Israel. Each child, ages 3 to 17, was given a white piece of paper, a pencil and 20 markers, and asked to draw his or her own vision of peace and war.

“For most young children,” Walker said, “drawings come quite naturally, and thus this is an excellent, non-threatening tool to help build rapport and discussion.”

Kent State graduate Yael Notman, Walker and Blankemeyer later interviewed the children about their drawings. They wrote their responses, which were displayed below the drawings at the church.

Picturing peace

A 7-year-old girl from the United States drew a picture of two soldiers and an arrow pointing at each soldier. Near the arrows are the words “us” and “them.”

“This is ours, and that’s the other team’s,” the girl said when interviewed. “I heard their leader was being very mean to them, that they can’t show their faces and that ladies can’t go to school. I don’t like him. I know that they are doing stuff wrong, but why do we have to bug them? It’s his state, he owns it.”

Walker said the drawings Blankemeyer collected from Northern Ireland were from Coleraine, a primarily Protestant community.

A Coleraine child draws peace.

“Well, everybody’s happy and together,” the 9-year-old said. “Nobody dislikes anyone, and everyone is playing together happily because it doesn’t matter who you are or what you like … You are who you are, and you are who you are meant to be.”

Another Coleraine child finds peace in nature.

“Well, as far as I can see, peace is something that everyone should aim for in life, in the world,” the 11-year-old said. “It’s not very possible, but it should be in the world. Peace doesn’t waste human life. The sun, the trees, the grass all demonstrate peace.”

Always striking back

Notman, who was a graduate student at the time, collected pictures from 27 Jewish children in Israel.

Two 11-year-old Israeli boys compare war as they see it in their country.

“There is serenity,” one said. “The Jews and the Arabs are holding hands and it is good for them. The Jewish person is happy because there is no war and there is no distraction. The Arabic person feels the same way. There could be a mistake, though. If an important person gets hurt from someone, Jewish or Arab, then the person that rules the country that got hurt starts attacking. It just keeps going.”

The second boy describes the relations between Arabs and Israelis as “The Big War.”

“Israel is bombing the Arabs, their houses, their people,” he said. “The more we shoot, the more the Arabs hate us. They feel sadness that people get hurt and anger that they are being shot at. (We) are trying to get peace, but the Arabs are unwilling. Each time, they have tricks against peace. The Arabs get back at us with the same things we do to them.”

Of the 27 students interviewed, seven were 17 years old and approaching the age of duty in the Israeli Defense Forces, Walker said. All the children’s fathers had been involved in at least one major war conflict.

‘Back-and-forth’ warfare

“It’s horrible,” said Tommy Krecic, freshman integrated health sciences major. “What are we fighting against now? Car bombs?”

Sophomore nursing major Cara Leeson said she doesn’t think most people understand war in general, including the United States’ current situation in Iraq.

“It switches gears and motives so often that no one really knows what it’s even about anymore,” Leeson said. “It’s simply back-and-forth warfare and continuous killing. Is war justified if there is a purpose? What happened to (Osama) bin Laden, again?”

Walker said it’s important to acknowledge that exposure to political violence may influence children’s expectations and aspirations, in turn affecting the future of humanity.

“Ideally, in a democracy, each person has a voice, the opportunity to be heard if he or she is willing to take that opportunity,” Walker said. “But even in the best circumstances, this is not always true, especially for children, whose voices are rarely heard in political arenas. And in the midst of political violence, their voices may actually be silenced. In a democracy, it is essential we work to overcome such silencing.”

Contact religion reporter Courtney Cook at [email protected].