Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Teach the Children War


The National Museum of American History, and a billionaire who has funded a new exhibit there, would like you to know that we’re going to need more wars if we want to have freedom.  Never mind that we seem to lose so many freedoms whenever we have wars.  Never mind that so many nations have created more freedoms than we enjoy and done so without wars.  In our case, war is the price of freedom.  Hence the new exhibit: “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War.

The exhibit opens with these words: “Americans have gone to war to win their independence, expand their national boundaries, define their freedoms, and defend their interests around the globe.”  Those foolish, foolish Canadians: why, oh, why did they win their independence without a war?  Think of all the people they might have killed!  The exhibit is surprisingly, if minimally, honest about imperialism, at least in the early wars.  The aim of conquering Canada is included, along with bogus excuses, as one of the motivations for the War of 1812.

The most outrageous part of the opening lines of the exhibition, however, may be the second half: “. . . define their freedoms, and defend their interests around the globe.”  The exhibition, to the extent that I’ve surveyed it online, provides absolutely no indication of what in the world can be meant by a war being launched in order to “define our freedoms.”  And, needless to say, it is the U.S. government, not “Americans,” that imagines it has “interests around the globe” that can and should be “defended” by launching wars.

The exhibit is an extravaganza of lies and deceptions.  The U.S. Civil War is presented as “America’s bloodiest conflict.”  Really?  Because Filipinos don’t bleed?  Vietnamese don’t bleed?  Iraqis don’t bleed?  We should not imagine that our children don’t learn exactly that lesson.  The Spanish American War is presented as an effort to “free Cuba,” and so forth.  But overwhelmingly the lying is done in this exhibit by omission.  Bad past excuses for wars are ignored, the death and destruction is ignored or falsely reduced.  Wars that are too recent for many of us to swallow too much B.S. about are quickly passed over.

The exhibit helpfully provides a teacher’s manual (PDF), and its entire coverage of the past 12 years of warmaking (which has involved the killing of some 1.4 million people in Iraq alone) consists of the events of 9/11/2001, beginning with this:

“September 11 was a modern-day tragedy of immense proportions. The devastating attacks by al Qaeda terrorists inside the United States killed some 3,000 people and sparked an American-led war on terrorism. The repercussions of that day will impact domestic and international political decisions for many years to come.  At 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001, a passenger jet flew into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York. Fire and rescue crews rushed to the scene. As live TV coverage began, horrified viewers watched as a second plane slammed into the south tower at 9:03 a.m. Thirty-five minutes later a third airliner crashed into the Pentagon.  Another jet bound for Washington, D.C., crashed in Pennsylvania after its passengers challenged the hijackers. The nation reeled. But Americans resolved to fight back, inspired by the words of a passenger who helped foil the last attack: ‘Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.'”

If you talk to non-sociopathic teachers, you discover that the sort of “teaching” engaged in by our museums has a horrible impact on students’ understanding.  A new book called Teaching About the Wars is a great place to start.  It’s written by teachers who try to present their students with a more complete and honest understanding of war than what’s expected by common text books, many of which are far worse than the museum exhibit described above.  These teachers / authors argue that when a teacher pretends to have no point of view, he or she teaches their students moral apathy.  Pretending not to care about the world teaches children not to care about the world.  Teachers should have a point of view but teach more than one, teach critical thinking and analysis, teach skepticism, and teach respect for the opinions of others.

Students should not be taught, these teachers suggest, to reject all public claims as falsehoods and the truth as absolutely unknowable.  Rather, they should be taught to critically evaluate claims and develop informed opinions.  Jessica Klonsky writes:

“One of the most successful media-related lessons involved an exercise comparing two media viewpoints.  First I showed the first 20 minutes of Control Room, a documentary about Al Jazeera, the international Arabic-language television network headquartered in Doha, Qatar.  Students were shocked by the dead bodies and destruction shown on Al Jazeera.  For many it was the first time they realized that it wasn’t just soldiers who died in war.”

U.S. soldiers were 0.3% of the dead in the 2003-2011 war on Iraq.  These students had been unaware of the other 99.7% of the dead.  Learning what war really looks like is perhaps the most important lesson missing from our usual education system.

Another important lesson is who engages in war and why.  Bill Bigelow presents a model lesson through which teachers can present students with true situations, but with the names of the nations changed.  They can discuss what the nations ought to have done, before learning that one of the nations was their own, and before learning what it actually did.  Then they can discuss that reality.  Bigelow also begins his teaching about the “war on terrorism” by asking students to work on defining “terrorism” (and not by attacking each other, which is presumably how the National Museum of American History would recommend “defining” such a term).

One teacher ends such a lesson by asking “What difference do you think it would make if students all over the country were having the discussion we’re having today?”  Clearly, that question moves students toward becoming potential teachers wanting to share their knowledge to a far greater extent than, say, teaching them the dates of battles and suggesting they try to impress others with their memorization.

Can good teaching compete with the Lockheed Martin-sponsored Air and Space Museum, the U.S. Army’s video games, Argo, Zero Dark 30, the slick lies of the recruiters, the Vietnam Commemoration Project, the flag waving of the television networks, the fascistic pledges of allegiance every morning, and the lack of good alternative life prospects?  Sometime, yes.  And more often the more it spreads and the better it is done.

One chapter in Teaching About the Wars describes a project that connects students in the United States with students in Western Asia via live video discussions.  That experience should be required in any young person’s education.  I guarantee you that our government employs drone “pilots” to connect with foreign countries via live video in a more destructive manner who never spoke with foreign children when they were growing up.

David Swanson is author of War is a Lie. He lives in Virginia.

David Swanson wants you to declare peace at  His new book isWar No More: The Case for Abolition.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future