Post by Jessica Lach, IHL Youth Education Intern. Originally posted on the Humanity in War blog.
Millennials, the generation born between 1980 and the mid-2000s, are said to be full of complexities and firsts. Born in 1994, I consider myself a true millennial because I check most of the required boxes: I had Internet access during my formative years and social media as I grew into adulthood, and I learned all about the economy by watching the effects of the 2008 Global Economic Recession. Most importantly, me and my generation have been overexposed to media more so than any other generation preceding us. Despite all the information we are regularly thrown, we sometimes have skewed perspectives, especially when it comes to putting International Humanitarian Law into context.
A New Way of Getting and Processing Information
Millennials are the first generation to collectively form a true companionship with something lacking a living pulse — in other words, our smartphones have become a part of our daily lives and regular communications. Not only are our smartphones an extension of ourselves, but they are how we see the world we are living in. I know I am not the only one guilty of checking my social media news feeds before I even get out of bed in the morning. After all, about “six-in-ten online Millennials (61%) report getting [political] news on Facebook in a given week, a much larger percentage than turn to any other news source, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis”. From the comfort of bed, I can become fully aware of what the weather is like, how political situations across the world are panning out, and, most importantly, what a Kardashian sister ordered from Starbucks. New technological apps have simply become parts of our daily routines. Having progressed from Myspace home pages and then Facebook timelines, to Twitter feeds and Instagram posts, we Millennials have now found ourselves getting a look at daily life from 10-second Snapchat stories. From Snapchat, members of Generation Y have learned about the Greek referendum and other world events through the eyes of people much like ourselves. Furthermore, we are a generation that relaxes to the welcome screen of Netflix and opening chime of Xbox.
A Skewed Version of Reality, Including Rules of War
However, with the movies and video games which we regularly expose ourselves to through these and other services, a lot of what we see is not entirely accurate when it comes to properly portraying the rules of war. Common dystopian novels and movies, like The Hunger Games and Batman, regularly show scenes of destruction to civilian compounds and even the use of child soldiers, both of which are prohibited under IHL. Popular video games also tend to portray a world of warfare that skews the reality of what a wartime conflict is like and the real protections that are in place. I facilitated a Raid Cross activity once, during which my team and I hosted an open discussion about what the rules of war include. Throughout this discussion, many students tried to tell us that it was okay to take items off of deceased soldiers since this action is permitted in the popular video game Call of Duty.
Before I learned about IHL, I never really thought that rules of war existed, especially since modern media rarely displays them. Although I know fiction is merely fiction, when something is regularly portrayed, it can be easy to apply it to real life. For example, regularly watching movies like The Hunger Games may lead young people to believe that children carrying and firing weaponry is normal, whereas it is prohibited under IHL. The Call of Duty instance above is another example.
Why Understanding IHL Protections Is Critical
Though Millennials are a generation of information seekers and seem to always be plugged in, the result is that we can easily skew information and not fully understand the true implications of what we are exposed to in the media. When prompted with the question of “Why should Millennials care about IHL?”, the answer is simple: we are exposed to wartime conflicts more so than any other generation before us was from the media, meaning it is important that we understand the protections granted under IHL. It is imperative that we understand that what we see in the media is not always legal, not only because the rules of war are important but also because they may be vital to the strangers we see gracing our Snapchat stories an ocean away. As Millennials, we watch snippets about life on the frontlines on our Facebook timelines and then sit down and relax to Game of Thrones, all while forgetting that there are rules of war that, in effect, help shape the conflicts of our day. Though we are a generation known for our overexposure, we are also one of great conviction- a similar conviction that was found in the creation of the Geneva Conventions decades ago.