War. What is it Good For?

Absolutely nothing.

I rarely get a chance to watch the news these days.  When I do, what I see there fills me with such sadness and shame.  Are human beings really so far removed from one another that killing, hurting, and destroying each other is acceptable? Where have we gone wrong?

It makes me think of all the children I have ever taught.  Even the most damaged souls, kids who knew nothing but violence from the moment they were born… kids who had every reason to want to kick back at life, at anyone, for letting bad things happen to them. Every single one of the small humans I ever taught had an irrepressible need for laughter, for peace.  Structure and calm. Creative expression, acknowledgement, support. Every one of them responded to a positive approach.  If someone believed in them and their ability, they were confident to believe in themselves.  That was my job, as a grown up in their lives. My job to give them a calm, positive place to be happy, productive and learn.  To show them that they meant something to me.

In my first year of teaching, Nine-Eleven happened.  As I got ready for school that morning, I listened to my alarm clock radio with horror.  Things like the twin towers attack had occurred before in history, in times of war.  But in my lifetime, Nine-Eleven was the first time I was cognisant of a risk that our whole world might once again fall into war.  How naive of me …have we ever not been at war, somewhere on our planet?  This event seemed to reach the doorstep of the middle class west.  How privileged I have been to escape war.  How afraid I was, on that morning, that our world was about to descend into a war to end all wars.

As my class gathered that morning, there was a different kind of chatter on the mat. They had questions.  Some were afraid, some found it exciting, like a scene from an action movie or computer game.  Some were confused.  My multicultural class of children were a mix of the very quiet, the excitable and the belligerently opinionated, we had muslims, buddhists, christians, pagans and the non-religious too. So we sat down to talk about it.  First, I pulled out a book I have loved for a long time by Nikolai Popov.  It has no words. Just pictures.  It is simply titled:  Why?


Source: www.goodreads.com
Source: www.goodreads.com

The book explores the origins of conflict.  And it was the very seed of conflict that I wanted to reach with these kids.  The nub, the start, the absolute beginning.  I wanted them to come to a realisation about something very, very important.  So important that our world depends on it.  They were such smart kids.  We began to brainstorm all the things that might begin conflict between two individuals.  We talked about siblings, playground scuffles, when parents fight, gang violence, baddies versus goodies, countries, war.  But it all came back to individuals, in the end. To each child, who will one day be an adult. And this is what it all came down to:

“Conflict happens when I believe
I am more right than someone else”


These kids were 10 and 11 years old.  Similar in age to the boys killed on the beach in Gaza. I make the comparison because there are children caught up in a war over in the Middle East.  Children.  And the grown ups in their world are not providing them a calm and positive place to live.  They are too busy being more right than each other.  Bombing each other.  Destroying each other.  I don’t get in to the debate about who is right and who is wrong.  But I am sickened by the way people on facebook so happily ‘take sides’ in a war that is a long way from their cultural and political worlds.  And even further from their own children’s backyards.  If we take sides, we are believing ourselves to be ‘more right’ than others.  When will a dialogue begin about compromise, understanding, valuing human life?

I was struck by contrast this morning.  Two videos on facebook.  One posted by a Christian I know and respect.  One posted by an Agnostic I know and respect.  One assumes the Israelis ‘more right’ than the Palestinians, it is a video of the Israeli troops celebrating about going into battle.  The other reports on the human cost of the war, the staggering reality of the average age of Gaza’s population.  It is so hard to not make a judgement, based on those two clips alone, about who is ‘more right’.  But instead, I will focus on the thing that matters most.

I think about those children, on both sides of the walls.

Their families think they are more right.  They take their ‘right’ to bear arms against one another, and remove the right of their children to live in a world where we don’t shoot to solve an argument.  Where we make room for difference of opinion.  If my class of kids from every corner of the planet could get along and make music together, why the hell can’t the grown ups of this world?  Get over yourselves, big people.  Move over.  Live and let live.  Grow up.  Do you want peace?  Be peaceful. Stand down.  Show your children how we resolve conflict, lest you teach them how to maintain war.

My class, back then, tore paper into tiny little pieces and made an enormous peace rainbow for our classroom wall.  Every time we felt ‘more right’ than someone else, we’d look at that rainbow and remember:  all the people of many colours, gone from our world because of conflict.  And we’d extend a hand and try,
to understand each other.


Edwin Starr.

What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
War, yeah
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, yeah

War, good God
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me

Oh, war, I despise
Because it means destruction
Of innocent lives

War means tears
To thousands of mothers eyes
When their sons go to fight
And lose their lives

War, it ain’t nothing
But a heartbreaker
War, friend only to the undertaker
It’s an enemy to all mankind
The point of war blows my mind
War has caused unrest
Within the younger generation
Induction then destruction
Who wants to die?

War, it ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker
War, it’s got one friend
That’s the undertaker
Oh, war, has shattered
Many a young mans dreams
Made him disabled, bitter and mean
Life is much to short and precious
To spend fighting wars these days
War can’t give life
It can only take it away

War, it ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker
War, friend only to the undertaker
Peace, love and understanding
Tell me, is there no place for them today
They say we must fight to keep our freedom
But Lord knows there’s got to be a better way

War, huh
Good God y’all
What is it good for
Stand up and shout it:



12 thoughts on “War. What is it Good For?”

  1. I will never never understand humankind’s inhumanity against itself. Unfortunately these children are brought up to hate and blame and this cycle of war and hatred becomes generational. It feels like it will never end. I do despair about the human race. Beautifully written as always Rachel. xx

  2. I almost didn’t read this – I love your posts & feel a real sense of connection to them & when I saw the subject matter of this one I wasn’t sure if I should read it. I have such strong opinions about the biased media reporting on the situation here & being that it is happening where I grew up I feel it very personally. So, I thought I wouldn’t put myself through how I would feel disagreeing with my new favourite blog, but couldn’t help myself 🙂 and I have to say my thoughts were completely unfounded – I love how real and balanced this is.

    1. Oh my goodness Kirsty! I am happy on two fronts, one that you persevered in spite of the title, and two that you are happy with my approach to this touchy subject. Where did you grow up?
      I am fascinated. Sounds like you might be a ‘third culture kid’ too?

        1. Yep – definitely a third culture kid, moved around the world but the most settled i was as a kid was in Israel & I returned to live there for a while after my family moved to NZ.
          I also wanted to share that I went to an English school in Israel with kids from all kinds of backgrounds – arab/israeli/european/african and from all religions & with the advent of FB alot of us are in contact again & despite our different views on what is happening now we still maintain our friendships and our respect for one another – it gives me hope 🙂

          1. Isn’t facebook just the most wonderful thing for third culture kids? I always felt so bereft, so many friends lost (these families don’t really stay still for long and addresses change…) but then facebook happened. It has given me back so many friendships from my childhood. I went to thirteen schools, so there was a lot of moving about and change. I am grateful for facebook every day. It’s a small world after all 😉

  3. Rachel, This is such a moving, heartfelt post. You sound like a wonderful teacher to those kids. I must have sung those lyrics to the Frankie Goes to Hollywood version of War a hundred times, but seeing them written out is so poignant x

    1. Thanks Karen. I feel very passionate about the things we are teaching our kids, inadvertent and directly. I think I’d like to put a lot of grown ups in detention, if it would help. If only there was something I could do that would help.

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