Confronting War’s Complexities in the Classroom

 Zainab Salbi’s reminder that there are two sides to war; a devastating film from the NFB on the aftermath of war; the psychological trauma facing many returning soldiers; an ideal classroom text to introduce war’s complexities; and the increasing global outrage against armed drones.


Some Compelling Films and Videos that Reveal War’s Costs



Women,Wartime and the Dream of Peace


Zainab Salbi, the founder of Women to Women International, gives a poignant talk, where she reminds us that, in order to create lasting peace after war, we need to consider war and peace from all sides, and that includes the story of women who keep life going on.


We are missing a completely other side of wars. We are missing my mother’s story, who made sure with every siren, with every raid, with every cut off-of electricity, she played puppet shows for my brothers and I, so we would not be scared of the sounds of explosions. We are missing the story of Fareeda, a music teacher, a piano teacher, in Sarajevo, who made sure that she kept the music school open every single day in the four years of besiege in Sarajevo and walked to that school, despite the snipers shooting at that school and at her, and kept the piano, the violin, the cello playing the whole duration of the war, with students wearing their gloves and hats and coats. That was her fight. That was her resistance.


Aftermath: The Remnants of War

Filmed on location in France, Russia, Vietnam and Bosnia, director Daniel Sekulich’s award-winning NFB documentary reveals the stark truth that wars really never end.  Among its examples of war’s forgotten legacies is the stunning revelation that, if de-mining efforts in France continue at the current pace, it will take 700 years to rid France of the unexploded ordinances from WWI and WWII that litter the country.


Aftermath: The Remnants of War by Daniel Sekulich, National Film Board of Canada

Crash Landing/Opération Retour

This 2005 Quebec film, directed by Luc Côté, contributed to an increased willingness on the part of Canada’s government and military to acknowledge the psychological problems that confront so many returning soldiers.  Through interviews with Canadian soldiers that are disturbing, thoughtful, and at times angry, numerous veterans discuss the difficulty of revealing PTSD in a military culture that has traditionally defined it as weakness and the sense of betrayal from the institution that they had loyally served. For an interview with the director and details on the film, click here.






An Ideal Text for a Classroom Discussion:

 “Love and Resistance in Wartime: An Interview with Chris Hedges


In this short text, YES! Magazine’s Sarah van Gelder interviews Chris Hedges, a former New York Times journalist who reported from the world’s war zones for decades. In this compelling discussion, perfect for the classroom, Hedges touches on the addictive power of war, the inevitability of atrocities, PTSD and the power of small acts of resistance.

When you are in a combat situation like that, you realize how easy it is to commit murder, how easy it is to commit atrocity, because you are so deathly afraid — and with good reason. But the consequences are devastating, because of what you have done is to shed innocent blood…. So you bring back not only the trauma of violence, but that deep darkness that you must carry withing you for the rest of your life — that you have been responsible for the death of innocents.


So it isn’t just the issue of trauma; it is, as well, an issue of morality. This is a horrible burden to inflict, especially on a young life. It’s why war should always be waged as a last resort, because the costs are so horrendous, not only to families who lose loved ones and will spend the rest of their lives grieving, but for those who return and for the rest of their lives bear these emotional and psychological burdens.


For the complete text, click here.


Drone Warfare and Nonviolent Resistance:

Putting a Trial on in the Classroom

Before they fired, they hovered – their onerous, ominous buzzing casting shadows over village schools and homes, over weddings and funerals. The villagers never knew when they would fire, whether it would be at dawn, before the household woke for morning prayers, or when the men had left for the mosque, or in the middle of the day when bread baked on ovens and children played in courtyards (Benjamin 2013: 102)

A study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism: from June 2004 to mid-September 2012 between 2562-3325 people in Pakistan have been killed, including 474-881 civilians, with 176 being children (Living Under Drones: vi)

If you do something long enough, the world will accept it. The whole of international law is now based on the notion that an act that is forbidden today becomes permissible if executed by enough countries….. (Colonel Daniel Reisner, former head of the Israeli Defense Forces Legal Department; quoted in Benjamin: 127)

One of the today’s most desired weapons are armed drones, which are capable of flying for hours, sending back hundreds of hours of video footage and, without warning, killing a suspected “terrorist” – all with no risks for a pilot.  Assessing the number of innocent victims in the US drone wars over Pakistan and Yemen is difficult and further complicated by the fact that it is apparently US policy to consider all unidentified male victims of military age to be, by definition, combatants.  The target person’s identity is often not even known by those who give the order as the conclusion that their behavior, assessed at a distance, looks suspicious is enough to justify an attack (“Too Much Power for a President” New York Times 31 May 2012).

While only a small number of countries currently have the capacity to engage in targeted assassinations, the weapons are spreading — such is the logic of arms proliferation. However, past arms control successes, most recently the successful global landmines treaty,  have proved that an organized popular movement can succeed in changing the behavior of even major powers.

For many legal authorities, targeted killings by armed drones violate the most fundamental laws of war that accept lethal violence in self-defense only if the threat is instant, overwhelming, and if there is no other alternative. 

Global outrage is intensifying. One of the most famous actions in the United States was undertaken by 14 nonviolent activists, later named the Creech 14, who in April 2009 entered the Creech Air Force base in Nevada, where many of America’s drones are remotely operated. They were arrested for trespassing, but it was their subsequent trial which drew the most attention. The judge considered the issues to be too important to make an immediate ruling, which is typically the case in arrests of nonviolent activists. He eventually returned four months later with a ruling of guilty, but, due to time already served, released the group with the words, “Go in peace.” 

The trial record which examines the morality of drone warfare and the legitimacy of nonviolent resistance has been turned into a script that could be a useful tool for an interactive classroom project.

To read a copy of the script, click here

For more information, see Stanford Law School’s 2012 report  Living Under Drones project and Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin’s recent book, Drone Warfare: killing By Remote Control (London: Verso, 2013). In Canada, a campaign to prevent the purchase of armed drones is being led by the Rideau Institute’s project.






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