War Changes Everyone: A Documentary Film Project on the Impact of War on American Children and Families (Spring 2016)

By Susan Hackley, Managing Director of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School

A Child’s Guide to War Project is a multi-faceted campaign to expand awareness among civilians of the experiences and contributions of America’s service men and women, to explore the impact of war on soldiers and their families, and to promote conversations about war among civilian and military Americans.

While recognizing that many children in non-US countries suffer severe injury or death because of war, documentary filmmaker and project director Susan Hackley is focusing on highlighting the toll that war can take even on children far from the battlefield. Two million American children have a parent who has served in Afghanistan or Iraq, and for all American children, the US has been at war their entire lives.

In her new short film, Veteran Kids, children talk about what it is like to have a parent at war. This film and the outreach campaign promote inclusive and nonpartisan discussions about the toll that all wars take on children and families.

As the mother of a son who fought in the Iraq war, Hackley has experienced the civilian-military divide personally and believes that this divide is unhealthy for the US.

“Most civilians are completely disengaged from the reality of our wars. That can make it difficult to be heard in discussions about war. As a first step, civilian Americans should appreciate the skills, sacrifices, and experiences of those who serve in the military and their families,” she said. “In our project, we work hard to engage with combat veterans, and we encourage them to trust us to tell their stories and to understand, at least a little, what they feel. This is a sacred trust.”

On the Advisory Board of the A Child’s Guide to War Project are a number of people with close ties to the military, including a retired Air Force brigadier general, a retired Navy SEAL, a Marine Vietnam combat veteran, and the Executive Director of the Code of Support Foundation.

Next steps for the project include completing production of a half hour program for WFYI, a public television station in Indiana. “We are focusing on stories from America’s heartland and are thrilled to have the support of US Senator Joe Donnelly, who serves on the Senate Armed Forces Committee, and many others in Indiana,” said Hackley. She has also co-led a talk at Harvard University with Congressman Seth Moulton, who served four tours of duty in Iraq. ‘This project is fantastic,” Moulton said, at their discussion on “Why is it hard to talk about war?”

For more information about the project, go to www.achildsguidetowar.com.

Susan Hackley is managing director of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, a consortium program of Harvard, MIT, and Tufts, www.pon.harvard.edu. She is producer and project director of A Child’s Guide to War, www.achildsguidetowar.com. She is also past Board Chair of the Alliance for Peacebuilding.