Why Do We Fight?: by Niki Walker

Why Do We Fight?: by Niki Walker


Rating: ★★★¾☆ 

Sometimes you just want things explained to you like you’re a fifth grader. An overabundance of detail, the disorientation of information overload, and way too many words: just bottom line it for me, okay? When Googling a simple explanation to a complex subject, it’s not a bad idea to add, “for kids.” “Quantum physics for kids,” “stock market for kids,” “Dostoevsky for kids.” Likewise, Why Do We Fight? is a pre-teen focused primer that, when you think about it, endeavors to explain all the world’s problems. Global conflict for kids. Over 80 pages, author Niki Walker gives readers conceptual straight talk about the nature of domestic and international unrest. That she manages it without condescension or flippancy makes this book a valuable text in developing an emerging social consciousness.

Chapters are devoted to identifying seeds of conflict, the alienation of competing groups, means and methods of conflict resolution, peacekeeping strategies and – crucially – media literacy. Walker keeps in constant connection with her audience, often using as a starting point analogous situations kids may experience in their own lives. Comparing the global stage to a high school, Walker writes, “when kids are rich and tough, they practically rule the school – they’re the superpowers.” Who would have thought Mean Girls was an object lesson in political theory? While the Cold War was certainly a far cry from hierarchical cafeteria behavior, the idea that grand-scale conflict – distilled down to essentials – shares so many dynamics with day-to-day bullshit may be either terrifying or a relief. Still, this authorial choice at least keeps readers engaged and building connections from the inside out.

Presented in a palette of black, white, grays and yellows, the graphic design is productively confrontational, bringing key points into sharp relief. The layout of the pages is active, utilizing flow charts, font variations, text blocks, bullet points and arrows, and full-page chapter breaks that feature quotes from some of history’s foremost peace advocates (Indira Ghandi, Audre Lorde, the Dalai Lama). Graphically modern, it resists pandering to its audience with too-trendy stylistics.

Walker spends most of her time in the realm of the conceptual, but zeroes in on historical incidents to briefly illustrate her points. The factual content of Why Do We Fight? is contemporary while leaving enough room to avoid obsolescence. There are several sidebars that illustrate conflicts in the Middle East, some historical (the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979) and others ongoing (the war in Afghanistan) – but the text doesn’t address what’s happening “today,” instead settling on the fluid and vague reality that these conflicts are always being negotiated and re-negotiated as time marches on.

Struggling to figure out what exactly is going on between Russia and Ukraine? Me too. When the world is as small as it is huge, everyone needs some guidance on how to make sense of it all. Why Do We Fight? helps kids take those first steps in what always was, and what always will be, a life-long project.

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