War Novels that Teach Peace

By Jerry Diakiw | 1992-09-01 12:00:00

Last month we looked at enlightening World War II novels. This month we will look at some stories from the Korean and Vietnam Wars, conflict in Latin America and the Middle East.


James Watson's intriguing book explores the dilemma of right and wrong in the Spanish Civil War in The Freedom Tree. He has also written Talking in Whispers about the "disappearances" in Chile after Allende. In Journey of the Sparrows by Fran Leeperbuss, 15-year old Maria flees El Salvador. The Honourable Prison, by Rebecca Lyell de Jenkins, is the chilling account of human rights violations in a 1955 South American dictatorship. Louise Moeri's The Forty Third War portrays unending war in Central America through the eyes of a young boy.


No Hero for the Kaiser, joins Erich Maria Remarque's All's Quiet on the Western Front as a classic novel of WWI. Rudolf Frank's pacifist novel was written as a warning to young people in 1931. It was first banned then burned in the early years of the Nazi Reich. Naomi Lewis, in a review in the London observer, wrote "No Hero for the Kaiser is a work so remarkable that you have to wonder why it has taken so long to reach us here." Another revealing WWI novel is After the Dancing Days by Margaret Rastkowski, where 13 year old Anne has to redefine the word hero and question conventional ideas of patriotism.


The Korean War spawned two fine novels suitable for young people.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John by Pearl S. Buck recounts the story of four children, abandoned by American soldiers, who band together for survival. The Bridges of Toko-Ri by James Michener deals with death and despair of airmen in combat, while no one back home understands why they are there.


The Vietnam War is yielding some provocative novels for teenagers. Notables are Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Meyers, the Coretta Scott King Award winner for 1989, a gripping , realistic account of American soldiers' life in Vietnam and the ambiguity of their lives. Caribou, by Meg Wolitzer, offers conflicting views of the war. In To Stand Against the Wind, by Ann Norlan Clark, Em, a Vietnamese eleven year old, recalls his heritage, the war, the dislocation, and the victims, as he adjusts to his new life in America. In And One For All, Therea Wilson explores a friendship torn apart by opposing views. Fragments, by Jack Fuller, for more mature young readers, (13+) is an enlightening look at the Vietnam War. In Katherine Paterson's Park's Quest, eleven year old Park searches for his dead father's past, starting first at the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington, D.C.

In Charlie Pippin, by Candy Boyd, an 11 year old black girl learns everything she can about the Vietnam War to help her understand her father. In Jaws of the Dragon by Alan Gibbons, in postwar Vietnam, refugees escaped to Canada.


In Smoke Over Golau, a novel of the 1973 Yom Kippur War in Israel, by Uriel Okek (ages 10+), Saleema, a Syrian boy, and the narrator maintain their friendship despite the war. The Boy From Over There (8+) by Tamer Bergman, portrays Holocaust survivors as kibbutzniks during the tumultuous creation of the Israeli State. Six Days and Seven Gates (9+), by Yitzak Nevon, describes the recapture of Jerusalem by the Israeli army.

A Handful of Stars by Rafik Schamis vividly depicts daily life in Damascus during political instability of 1946. More recently in Oliver's War by Budge Wilson, a young boy's father is shipped out to the Gulf War. Facing the Enemy by Sylvia McNicoll presents a Canadian perspective through young Cliff, a pacifist, as he deals with his father's tour of duty in the Persian Gulf.

An Arab or Muslim voice is not yet available in our young adult literature. It is important that we not demonize Muslim or Arab culture.

History's saddest moments, ironically, give birth to creative and powerful literature. Like many myths and legends, it is in these dark moments that our deepest fears are explored. In such moments we see the triumph of the human spirit, and we learn the lessons of history.

Jerry Diakiw is the superintendent of schools with the York Region Board of Education.

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1992

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1992, page 28. Some rights reserved.

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