Having an enemy doesn’t always require a war, but always (always!) requires separate camps! Those camps could be foxholes, but they could also be duct tape lines across a shared bedroom floor, places to sit during lunch at school, or even a divided family.
In this book, 'There’s a war on.', and two soldiers are facing each other from holes in the ground. Just one soldier speaks to us, but we see both (click the images to expand).
The soldier’s words are full of fear and loathing and motivated by the propaganda he has heard.
It’s so very obvious to readers that both soldiers could be saying the same words—and, at the same time, so very obvious to the soldier that he is alone and in peril.
The turning point is the discovery of photos, food and war manuals ‘filled with lies’ in the second soldier’s foxhole.
Instantly the narrator soldier recognises the humanity of his ‘enemy’. “The enemy is very tired. Now I know that. And I know he has a family waiting for him at home.”
A way to end the war becomes clear too: "He could send me a message to tell me: We’re ending the war now. If he sent me this message, I’d accept it right away."
And finally, a dawning realisation that: "I’ve waited long enough. … I have written a message on my handkerchief. I’ve put it in a plastic bottle. …Let’s hope my bottle lands in his hole."
3 big ideas from The Enemy:
Our enemies are usually more like us than we think. There’s a lot of common ground in any conflict. It’s finding and understanding the common ground that ultimately lets us care for our ‘enemy’ and resolve our conflict. And that’s just as true in disputes over cubby house territory as it is in border dispute wars.
Propaganda generally works both ways—as does gossip, and fake news, and hear-say. Both soldiers come to the shocking realisation that what they have always believed about each other was simply not true. It’s worth searching for truth and talking to real live people to understand difference and conflict—whether that’s your sibling who messes with your lego, a refugee or asylum seeker from a hot-spot country, a neighbour with different religious or political beliefs, or an enemy during a war.
Making the first move towards resolving conflict is brave. Sometimes a bit of outside help makes all the difference, but sometimes it’s up to us individually. The soldiers choose, simultaneously, to make a move toward ending the war. Of course they have no formal authority, but they try anyway. That’s often the way isn't it? We may feel like we lack authority, experience or power—and yet, it’s almost always a good idea to make the first move towards peace and resolution.
This is an impactful book that is perfect for war obsessed children ... a normal and healthy developmental stage, but one that needs to be approached with balance, integrity and realism.
It’s equally impactful for teens and adults, it’s hopeful and insightful and helps us to look at war more expansively ... and at the little wars or contentions in our own lives with more compassion and with greater hope for resolution.
I come away better and more resolved to seek peace every time I read this book.