Excerpted from When Kids Ask Hard Questions, Volume 2: More Faith-Filled Responses for Tough Topics (Coming soon from Chalice Press)*
I have a vivid memory of sitting on the carpeted floor of my sister’s basement as she wrangled with her toddler. “Shock and Awe”—the phrase used to describe the United States’ initial invasion of Baghdad in 2002—was on the television, and I knew in that moment that my niece would grow up in a world very different from the one I had known.
My niece doesn’t remember a time when the United States wasn’t at war.
Nearly two decades later, the same is true of my own kids.
My husband is an active-duty Army chaplain, and he left for his first deployment the week after our wedding fifteen years ago. His second deployment began when our oldest was an infant, and his third when all three kids were school-aged.
My spouse and I spent a lot of time and energy discerning how much to tell them. Because we had been through deployments before, we had been down the road of communication blackouts, uncertainty, and misinformation. We didn’t want to shield them from reality, but we also didn’t want to scare them unnecessarily. His location was near Fallujah, so though his job as a chaplain kept him from direct combat, danger lurked. We walked a tightrope of giving them enough information to contextualize their experience, without so much that it would keep them up at night.
I do want to note here the privilege that comes from being a kid in the United States at this point in history. We talk about war as a thing that happens on the other side of the world, not out our own front windows. For many kids across the globe, going to school or playing outside is a physical risk, and that serves as the backdrop for how I think, talk, and pray about war and combat violence with kids in the United States. This is unimaginable for many of us, and it’s important to remember this context.
Even still, being a nation at war permeates our lives in ways we might not even realize. Before they could speak, kids in the U.S. were watching commercials with emotional coming-home celebrations and massive flags draped over football fields. They have grown up with “Support Our Troops” as a ubiquitous call. Though military kids are more aware of it, all kids live under the cloak of war, though we usually name it “patriotism.” Depending on how the adults around them do—or don’t—talk about it, they might not even be aware that we’ve been continuously at war since 2002, but they have experienced some of its effects on how we as a country interact with one another and the world around us.
But every so often, war floats up to the surface of our national awareness. Usually it’s because of an event: an attack, a bombing, a thwarted peace talk. Social media begins to fill with news stories and opinion pieces, followed by hashtags and photo frames and the questions on our collective minds: Will we go to war again? Who will go? What will it mean for us? Why is this happening?