Education shapes attitudes on war

By Andrea McArthur and Michael Stephens
If you’re a teacher or educator, you may be wondering how to introduce your students to global societal issues like armed conflict. It’s a big subject! Fortunately, tackling global issues such as war and peace from the lens of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) can help students understand states’ responsibilities in reducing suffering and protecting civilians.

Why teaching International Humanitarian Law matters

One of the main reasons for breaches of IHL is ignorance of the law (see video on this below). The International Committee of the Red Cross asserts that “youth make up the bulk of present and future fighters. Finding innovative and locally adapted ways to reinforce norms of humanity among them, including via digital media, is essential.”


We recently surveyed of over 1,000 young people in Canada, as part of a Global Millennials on War study conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The study assessed the similarities and differences of attitudes about armed conflict between Millennials from countries experiencing armed conflict and those living in peacetime. Themes included civilian protection, nuclear weapons, the use of torture, digital technologies, the treatment of prisoners of war and the inevitability and future frequency of wars.
The survey found that only 58% of Canadian Millennials believe that the Geneva Conventions effectively reduce suffering in armed conflict.

Contrary to the opinions held by the Millennials who were surveyed, special protections ARE offered to civilians and those no longer participating in the hostilities under the Geneva Conventions. International Humanitarian Law, which includes the Geneva Conventions, the Additional Protocols, and other international treaties, aims to protect human life and dignity by restricting the means and methods of warfare.

Tools for teaching IHL

To show how IHL is making a difference, the Red Cross developed an online database of IHL compliance by theme and country called IHL in Action. It’s just one example of many tools to promote awareness and respect for IHL while showcasing positive IHL success stories and compliance with the law.
Students, teachers, and all Canadians can learn more about International Humanitarian Law with new innovative tools, like our new quiz. Test your knowledge here.
One of the other tools that can help people learn about the basic rules of IHL is Forced to Fight, an online interactive resource for youth that explores IHL themes such as  sexual and gender based violence, child soldiers, and refugees and forced migration in a choose-your-own adventure format. The dilemmas encountered in each story reinforce the key theme that there are no easy answers in armed conflict. Learning points help students think critically and problem solve about real world issues (see video below).

Forced to Fight was inspired by the ICRC’s Exploring Humanitarian Law toolkit for teachers with ready to use case studies and lesson plans for the classroom. Within the toolkit, students and teachers are able to learn the basic rules of IHL using a plain language summary sheet.
Do all Canadians share the same attitudes about International Humanitarian Law? Take our quiz and follow @redcrosscanada on Twitter through the month of March 2021 to see how you fare with the rest of Canada.

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