Reviews 2016

The War of My Generation: Youth Culture and the War on Terror

The War of My Generation: Youth Culture and the War on Terror. David Kieran. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2015. 253 pages. $28.95 (paperback).

The War of My Generation: Youth Culture and the War on Terror is an edited volume describing the impact that terrorism has had and continues to have on the youth population. The 2010 Meeting of the American Studies Association War on Terror panel birthed the idea for this collection.

David Kieran, the editor, articulates the three goals for this collection and they include commentary on the diversity of millennial and post-millennial experience and attitudes, case studies about how popular culture has shaped young people’s understanding of the War on Terror and, lastly, the challenges that exist in teaching history to students who have lived through these experiences.

In "Starship Troopers, School Shootings and September 11," Holly Swyers describes how her college students interpreted the reactions of older adults as a kind of xenophobic patriotism. The responses of the youth included an optimism that once the grievances at the heart of the attacks were understood, such violence would be prevented in the future. As these were not the responses she expected, Swyers suggests that as time moves forward, and as these generations move forward, they will digest the perspective of our generation and come to accept that this is a "war of my and my elders' generations and...we are making it the war of our children’s generations" (35).

Cindy Dell Clarks’s "Summer, Soldiers, Flags and Memorials" addresses how children come to understand the role of their nation. She argues that the enthusiastic citizen response encouraged an understanding that patriotism is central to our understanding of being an American. The unbridled patriotism that followed 9/11 created the viewpoint "that militarism makes Americans free" (57).

Sunaina Maira’s chapter, "Fighting with Rights and Forging Alliances," tackles the issue of targeting youth who are seen to be "other" and a potential liability to the safety of the US. Maira argues that 9/11 changed the face of a political understanding about those who are targeted because of their religion, race, or gender and their ability to feel safe and to respond.

Laura Browder’s chapter, "How to Tell a True War Story...For Children: Children’s Literature Addresses Deployment," discusses the difficult experience that children can have when family members are sent to war. There is a need for children to read about how to respond to their feelings about their parents being deployed. The books she cites present an argument "on how children can manage their feelings in order to become soldier-like" (88). Children are then not differentiated from their soldier parent and in essence become soldiers as well.

In "What Young Men and Women Do When Their Country is Attacked," David Kieran describes the role that literature plays in focusing young adult readers on the positive side of war. Books such as Ghost of War (2009, Ryan Smithson) and Sunrise Over Fallujah (2008, Walter Dean Myers) sanction "the discourse of neoconservative humanitarian interventionism that has been central to the defense of the US intervention in Iraq" (107). Such texts prevent the reader from coming to a deeper understanding of the horrors of war and negativities of militarism.

In "Calls of Duty: The World War II Combat Video Game and the Construction of the 'Next Great Generation,'" Jeremy Saucier argues that ss video games became more realistic, directors like Stephen Spielberg produced movies that simulated the war games and his hope was to encourage young people to understand the sacrifices that occurred in WWII. Video games and movies were created to teach empathy in fighting for freedom and direct the millennial generation towards "a call of duty" (140). The author however is not arguing that this was a good thing but rather the result of such efforts.

In "Software and Soldier Life Cycles of Recruitment, Training, and Rehabilitation in the Post 9/11 Era" Robertson Allen discusses the influence that the military has on young people. "America’s Army" is a successful example of a single piece of software that demonstrates "how post-9/11 generations of youth have been recruited, trained and rehabilitated with games, simulations and virtual environments as central aspects of these processes" (145). The term "military-entertainment" describes the metaphor that encourages individuals to be become "battle ready" (163). This effort is part of the war machine aimed at youth.

"Coming of Age in 9/11 Fiction: Bildungsroman and Loss of Innocence" by Jo Lampert presents three novels that are part of the coming of age effort that has occurred after 9/11. The goal for this genre is to make the world the way it was rather than to change or save it. Lampert argues that 9/11 has forever changed the generation of young people who were children when the attack happened.

In "'Army Strong': Mexican American Youth and Military Recruitment in All She Can," Irene Garza discusses All She Can (2011), a film that depicts the experiences of Luz Garcia, a teenager who wants more than anything to go to college and avoid joining the army. The movie presents the challenges that a poor, minority girl faces as she looks for alternatives to the predictable choices and furthers the argument that post-9/11 thinking has created a pro-military youth.

In "This War But Not Of It: Teaching, Memory, and the Futures of Children and War," Benjamin Cooper discusses a course he designed about the depictions of war in children’s literature. His challenge was to help young people come to understand war and the role that youth have played throughout history in war. His goal was to demonstrate how youth perceive war and how that perception leads to action either for or against war.

Rebecca A. Adelman’s "Coffins after Coffins: Screening Wartime Atrocity in the Classroom" focuses on the use of extreme images to help students understand the depth of terror. Using these materials is controversial, but Adelman addresses the need to analyze how the media present the topics of the war on terror and the US response to it. Teaching youth to look critically at what they see is central to helping them reach a personal understanding of how their world has changed.

In his conclusion, Kieran states that the contributions of the authors "present worthy topics of discussion and analysis as the post-millennial generation begins to grapple with the legacies of these events" ( 250). Indeed, this collection of essays has created a robust discussion of many aspects of how young people may or may not connect to the various actions that are part of the war on terror. However, too few examples of literature written for young people were included in this collection even if the collection as such aims at providing a broad sense of what young people will experience as they think about the war on terror from gaming to film to media to literature. Without a doubt, The War of My Generation: Youth Culture and the War on Terror engages the reader in the difficult topics related to the relationship of the military and the personal decisions of youth. In the end, it thankfully provides no answers, enabling readers to make their own decisions.

J. Cynthia McDermott
Antioch University, USA