Tuesday, December 17

Peer Pressure and The Psychology of Going to War

When I was young, I heard tales (and songs, like the one above) of the Great War from old people who had been  young when they went out to the battlefields.   The songs were resolutely cheerful, and curiously, the people I met, at least, had memories of the war that were almost entirely positive. They recalled being excited to be away from home, away from parents telling them what to do, glad they were doing a useful job instead of being stuck labouring on a farm or drudging in someone's house. They liked the cameraderie, the feeling of being caught up in something big, they travelled to new places, they met the opposite sex.  None of them mentioned the sufferings and horrors which they must have seen.  One old man even told me it had been the best time of his life.

I think now that they, like most teenagers, were just insulated from it by the self absorption and energy of youth, but it shows the value of first hand testimony when looking at the past from today's perspective. .

We have not tried to convey to the children how horrible war is, partly because some of them are refugees from countries at war, and know first hand, and partly because it is wrong to inflict horrors unnecessarily on children.  But we did discuss how the people actually involved in going to war might have felt, and what reasons they would have heard both for and against. .

We had an interesting moment when Vanessa asked those who disapproved of going to war to stand aside.  Nearly half the class did so and formed a group of "conscientious objectors."    Within seconds, those who had chosen to "go for soldiers"  had started to jeer and call "coward!"  We stopped them, of course, but it was enough to persuade half the group of "conscientious objectors" that they should change sides and be with the soldiers after all.

It taught them something about peer pressure.   And at the end, a few diehards decided to be conscientious objectors, despite everything. .


  1. An interesting experiment with them -- and they are learning more than just how to craft a story.

  2. Indeed, I agree with messymimi. A very interesting scenario. I admire the diehards, thought. They didn't crack. Good on them! :-)

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your family! :-)

    Greetings from London.

  3. So much is being learned with this class. Interesting that the objectors went to the go to war side and not the other way around. I suppose being called "coward" was pretty powerful in convincing them.


  4. This sounds like a really interesting project! What you say about the soldiers being protected (in a way) by their youth sounds similar to something I felt when reading a memoir by a young WWI officer - he could write about people dying in the mud, and then write a 'thrilling' account of dodging bombs to get to the mess hut in time for tea....I think he was writing as letters to his family, so to some extent he would want to reassure them, but his exuberance and youth really shone through, even when he was writing about terribly grim stuff.

  5. Yes, Darla and Mimi, and I learned a lot in the class too. Becca, when I was young, I used to think I was a sensitive and rather fearful type, but actually, looking back, I am amazed at how careless and unthinking I was. It seemed so different to me then of course :) Cuban,the diehards had uncertain and defiant smirks but I too admired how they stuck to their decisions!