YOUTH: War Is What? Media Confuses Teen Viewers


This article originally appeared in Issue# 39

Today's U.S. youth have no inkling what it might mean for them if the rumblings in Congress result in restoring the draft. They were in early childhood when it was last in existence.

What they know of the military they must gather from various representations of it in the media. And of course, that is quite a varied picture. Rambo offers the glorified fantasy of a macho destruction in the name of success for the triumphant good guy. Platoon, on the other hand, overwhelms the viewer with gore, frustration and hysteria, but asks probing questions about war. The TV miniseries "Amerika" envisions protecting the native soil when the military fails.

 A new element in media is hard-sell commercials for the armed services directed to the teenager who is not quite sure of lifework possibilities. These ads promise a wise, wealthy, and with-it playground owner who has endless fun and expensive toys ready for youth to use in pursuit of their own perfect (fun and expensive) career.

Military ad makers can be complimented on not going for the easy touch to youth who have dropped endless quarters into video games, which usually teach them to totally annihilate their challenger/enemy.

However, these ads and much of the media that deals with the military do touch many of youth's vital concerns. They want to do their part to protect their country. Young people want to project strength. If nothing more, they want to be on a winning team, and media illustrate almost daily that winning usually means fighting.

The age-old dilemma for youth, however, is that older persons declare war but youth are the ones who fight it. However, today's youth have had almost no opportunity to consider the alternatives.

How about using media to help the youth in your group make some decisions about the military? To borrow the Army's phrase, the experience could be called "Be All You Can Be." Put posters around the meeting space with the names of various recent media productions that portray the military, everything from M*A*S*H to the ones mentioned above. Someone in the group might refresh everyone's memory of the story, in case some did not see it. Then ask everyone to stand near the poster that best describes their idea of the military. Let each group meet together for 10 minutes to write down their description before asking one person from each group to come to a negotiating table in the middle of the room to form a consensus statement for the entire group.

The final statement should describe a form of military that could be supported by the majority of your group.

Those who could not in good conscience join this military could be helped to fill out appropriate "conscientious objector" papers and their position made known to the group. After these positions are told, ask them to share the feelings they have about making their stand and ask others to reflect on their reaction.

Author Bio: 

Bill Wolfe, longtime director of senior-high educational ministries for the United Methodist Church, is now a producer for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, TN.