How to explain war to kids

by / Aug 15, 2022


This interview is from A Kids Book About: The Podcast, with host Matthew Winner and author of A Kids Book About War, Sarah Jones. It has been lightly edited for clarity.  




What is War? 


Ah, war is a lot of things, but to summarize what it technically is, is when groups of people—usually with weapons, and sometimes it's countries and it's at least two but it can be more—[are] involved in a conflict. 


So the way that I try to say it is diplomacy. It's a big word, but it means when people talk. So if you see the state department or a foreign minister, they're talking. But when talking isn't what's happening between countries or between groups, and there are weapons involved, that's what we call war. 


Today’s topic is big. And with a topic so big, it can feel like finding a way to explain and explore is really, really difficult. So let’s start at one of the first questions people ask when they learn of a war happening: why? 


Why do wars happen?  


I fundamentally—like I thought about this before we were writing the book and—the basic thing that I can bring it down to is power. 


People may call it religion. People may call it ideology, which means, a set of beliefs that people have. That's what ideology means. Or they may say it's about getting more land. 


But at the end of the day, that always translates to power or money or resources.


So, in my honest opinion, and I've covered a lot of wars—it's always about power. 




So if wars are started for different reasons, even if they’re all different ways of saying “power”, and if wars are happening all over the world and across time and with different groups of people, it makes sense that wars don’t all look the same, right?


Yeah. They don't all look the same and that's what was one of those things that was interesting for me when I was writing this book is you have something like the Cold War, which I definitely want you guys to Google to learn about that. 


Nothing was fired. 


There is also, you know, sometimes people attack, or countries attack, through using the computer to get money or get information. And we in the United States actually don't have any set of rules about when that becomes an act of war.


Then you also have civil wars, which aren't more than one country. It's within a single country that there are mainly at least two big groups fighting. 


So, And again about power. So it can look different ways.


And I think your generation, you guys are going to see it evolve in a different way. 


I pray that it's one with less casualties, but I don't know. That's why I think this book is so important because you can never start talking about these things too early. And, you know, maybe this generation that's reading about it now will be the one to do things a little differently. 



Sarah used a word there and I want to make sure that it’s one you understand. The word “casualties” sometimes gets misused by grownups. Here’s how Sarah defines the word.


Oh, that's a good question. Casualties. So a lot of people get this wrong, so I'm excited that you asked this. A lot of people think casualties are only when people die. That is not true. 


Casualties also include when people are injured. So that's important to know because it can be [people] injured or deaths.




The start or ending of a war are rarely clearly defined. Often a lot of things happen that lead to a war starting. And just because a side declares victory does not mean that all conflict suddenly and entirely stops.


People will say that there is a clear start and beginning because history books, if you look up a war, they'll have a start date and end date. 


Personally, I don't necessarily agree with that because I think you have something I call underlying causes. So what I mean by that is, reasons that people get upset enough or crave enough power to want to start a war. Sometimes that's because they remember how they were hurt in the previous war. Or they remember that things were taken away from their family in a previous [war]. So to me, that's a reason that maybe they will get angry when they grow up to start another war.  


So I don't think there's a clear beginning and end, but the history books will put a beginning and end from when, you know, the first gun or was fired, or sometimes it's a bomb—which is kind of a big blast that is dropped.


So, history books will have a beginning and an end, but I think the human part of it, which is really tied to it, is usually further back in history and further back in the future, too. 


Sarah is a journalist who, at times, reports on wars happening around the world. Without journalists, it would be much, much more difficult to know what is going on. And without news sources we can trust, it becomes even more difficult to really know what is happening in our own backyards, in neighboring cities and states and countries, and around the world.


So I want to say that the most important thing I think you should know is that while some journalists come in from other countries, those journalists can leave.


There are a lot of journalists that are from that country that are risking their lives to make sure we know what is happening in the world. And that's why I say journalism is so important, because when you know what's happening in your world, then you can make decisions about what you want to do.   


Do you want to contact a politician? Or write a letter to the president? Or do you want to, uh, start a protest? 


You know, when you know what's happening, you can make decisions about how to live your life. And these journalists take training. So there's something called HEFAT, which is hostile, which means like a dangerous environment, first aid training. 


So they learn how to take care of each other and themselves in dangerous areas. I've been trained on that. 


You also have gear that kind of looks like a military person. So you have a helmet that protects you and something called a flak jacket, which is a bulletproof vest. 


And then also you normally, [wear] something across you that says press so people know you’re media, but unfortunately the world has changed in the last 10 years and sometimes that wording becomes a target to people who want to hurt journalists.


It didn't use to be like that. People used to know that if they talk to a journalist, people will hear what they have to say. But unfortunately, that changed a little bit with some of the terrorist groups.




One superpower so many kids share is the ability to see someone in need and ask, “How can I help?” Maybe you’ve even been thinking along those exact lines as you’ve been listening today.  


First of all, you guys are doing awesome by even hearing this conversation or having these conversations to learn what war is at such a young age. But one thing I feel that we, as adults, could do more is listen to you guys. And the reason I say that is because you guys have this very pure view of the world. 


And I think sometimes when grownups have jobs and they have to make money and there's so many things adults have to do, we forget the importance of family or love, or just these basic things that we need for survival. 


So sometimes I think if we listen to you guys more, we'd do better jobs as grownups and remember to share and remember to play nicely. Everything that you learn in school, but I would love to hear what you guys think are solutions. 


I mean, some things that you can do, whether it's about war or anything else, is if you live in a place like America, where you vote for the president and you vote for politicians, that's called a democracy, then you can write a letter to whoever is elected official for your state. 


So you can ask your mom and dad to help you find who your state representative is, or your state Senator. And their job is to serve you. Their job is to do whatever the people in their state want them to do the majority. 


So if you write to them and say, “I live here and I think you should do this for these people or help these people.” 


If enough people say the same thing, they have to do it. That's the beautiful thing about living in a country like America, because not everybody can do that. In other countries, you can't say anything against the people that are elected or the government. They will hurt people for saying things, but here you have that power. So use it. You’re powerful.




There is no way we could cover all that war is or war means or how war affects people differently and for different reasons, but you can keep asking questions. That is a power you’re born with. You also have the power to feel, and that’s something that will take you very far in this world.


So, before we go, here’s Sarah with some final words saved just for you.


I just want to say that I know emotions, or feelings, can feel big.


And I know for me personally, sometimes I struggle to find the words to say how I'm feeling and that's okay. I found one thing that helps is sometimes drawing how you feel or moving around and showing how you feel. 


But I think it's important when you read something like this or talk about something that feels big to go to the grownups in your life that you trust and share those drawings or share those feelings. Even if you don't have full words for them, or you can even make up words for them; you know, but I think it's important to talk to the grownups that you trust and tell them what's on your mind. 


And they can have those conversations with you. 


And sometimes they don't have an answer right away and that's okay too cause sometimes we grown ups don't know everything, but they can at least know how you feel and what you're thinking and can try and find answers for you when they know the answer. So, it's important to talk and communicate.


And if you guys have questions about war or this book, you can also ask the parent in your life to send a tweet to me or A Kids Book About, and I'll try and make sure I get it and answer it. 


And hopefully that adult in your life can share the answer with you. 





Each week on A Kids Book About: The Podcast, we talk about the big things going on in your world with a different author from our A Kids Book About series. This week we spoke with Sarah Jones, a journalist and author of A Kids Book About War