War veteran, Paul K Chappell, explains how The Hunger Games is an event far worse than modern-day warfare, and why.
One 12-year-old child. 23 teenagers. 18 days in a carefully curated arena designed for death. In the real world, this seems almost unimaginable. However, in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, it is very much real.
The book series has told us a lot about war already, from how tributes are picked to fight to the death for their own districts, to talk shows hosted by Caesar Flickerman that glamorises battle.
The author herself was a military child, as she revealed to The Guardian that her father served in the Vietnam war. Although the YA book’s portrayal of war and violence has received the attention of so many, it is important to consider that The Hunger Games is not just war. It is worse.
“War has a seductive scent and a traumatising taste that is very easy to depict through propaganda or through fiction,” said Paul Chappell, 43, Director of The Peace Literary Institute. “It’s something very glamorised, romanticised, and epic.”
Paul served in the army for seven years where he was deployed to the Iraq War. He graduated from West Point, a military academy based in New York, USA. The year 2009 was when he officially left the military to pursue a career in spreading Peace Literacy to schools across the country.
In his journey towards creating a peace literate world, Paul said he found inaccurate depictions of war being taught in schools. One of them was the book in question, The Hunger Games, as Paul explained it was the most inaccurate of them all.
“I understand teachers are trying to look for things kids will find engaging, but because it was being taught in schools, that was my primary concern,” said Paul. “The Hunger Games is more extreme than what most people experience in modern war because of the lack of comrades. You don’t take a soldier with no to a few days of training, no comrades, no leadership, and put them into a situation where they have a 4% chance or less of actually surviving.”
And with such a low chance of survival, it’s almost impossible for the odds to ever be in their favour.
We all know that The Hunger Games is a piece of fiction and theoretically does not resemble modern day war; the tributes do not have bladed weapons or air ships that drop missiles. However, it is the depiction of war’s effects on its people that was lacking in some areas, according to Paul.
“The bigger issue is that there are no depictions of actual, psychological collapse or even panic during the actual combat. The lack of comrades would make war way more debilitating and terrifying and make people far more prone to psychological collapse.
“People think of PTSD as the post traumatic stress disorder. But what is not often recognised is that the psychological stress or psychological collapse can happen before or during combat.”
During the Great Roman Civil War led by Julius Caesar, Roman soldiers often fell into a sudden panic and failed to mask their feelings. Many cried in their tents and persisted through the battle due to a fear of shame or being labelled a ‘coward’. Others tried to make up reasons to leave the camp in hopes that their military commander, Caesar, would believe them. It was almost as if they knew they were doomed for death. So much so that it would send some of them into a state of panic, making them unable to get up and fight.
“They were basically going to refuse to march and fight. And this is the Roman army – these are not a bunch of kids who have no training. This is the trained Roman legion.”
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At the height of combat, there is no place for vulnerability. However, mental breakdowns are so common within modern war fields that soldiers are taught exercises and response tactics to carry out if they see a comrade in distress.
“Panic is often contagious where it starts to spread from person to person. That was well recorded (in the Roman war) where soldiers just retreat or panic overwhelms them,” Paul explained. “Your comrade can become unresponsive and these things happen while in combat, not just after.”
The first book in The Hunger Games series hardly captures the mental state of the characters, according to Paul, and Katniss does not seem to falter despite the tremendous pressures put on her in a deadly arena.
The after effects of the games on the winning tributes’ characters are hardly explored, Paul added. However we do see these effects on the other tributes, such as Annie Cresta from District 4.
The aftermath of her games were so crippling that she suffered from mental instability. She would often close her eyes and cover her ears – this came after she watched her district partner get beheaded right in front of her.
While Annie’s character is often overlooked as she plays a small part in the trilogy, a more apparent character had significant flaws in his portrayal, says Paul.
Haymitch was District 12’s second winner of The Hunger Games and was portrayed to have alcohol addiction tendencies along with a comical effect. His character is often said to portray what a war veteran might look like. His behaviour was very unlike Paul’s father, who had served in the Vietnam war himself.
“Not every veteran is going to have an alcohol addiction. But the way they depict the trauma and alcohol addiction coming across as comical is frightening. It really doesn’t convey the nature of it.
“War trauma exists across a spectrum. There’s many different kinds of trauma that can result. But that one depiction in terms of Haymitch, did seem to lack a lot of nuance in terms of a comical depiction of somebody who has an alcohol addiction. For most people in that situation, it’s not comical.
“I’ve known people myself who’ve had alcohol addiction and it can ruin their lives and their relationships with their families. It can be terrifying for people who know somebody who has really serious, psychological struggles.”
Paul’s father served in the army for 30 years before retiring the same year he was born, in 1980.
“For him, it was more the aftermath that happened many, many years later. I know he struggled with it before I was born too. But what I witnessed was the part that was many years after the war.
“My father’s behaviour was just terrifying – especially the amount of rage he had and was capable of expressing.
“I didn’t get any sense that Haymitch was a terrifying person. Not that everybody who goes through trauma is, but he seems like the only character who has any kind of trauma.”
So why do we need more accurate representations of war? Do we need to know its impact on the people who live through it?
Paul shared a phrase by Martin Luther King called ‘romantic illusions of violence’, which reflects a lot of the inaccurate representations of warfare today.
“It’s very easy to glamorise war and violence, romanticise it and make it very epic. It’s a far more extreme situation that would actually be more psychologically debilitating than a lot of what war is for the modern world.
“Depicting the human psyche realistically is critical because not doing so can make us more ruthless in our thinking. When a show or a piece of fiction depicts combat or fear more realistically, it makes the action much more compelling.
“It’d be a mistake to think that what’s going on in The Hunger Games is actually equivalent to war, because that’s so far outside the reality. But the bigger issue is that people are filled with so many inaccurate depictions of violence – it just distorts how we think about things.”
This is why peace literacy is important, Paul explained, as he continues to spread the message for the younger generation.
“The idea that peace is urgently needed is a more relevant idea in 2023 than it’s ever been. People receive excellent training in how to wage war. At least they do in effective armies.
“Most people receive no training in how to wage peace. We’re often taught skills that are contrary to what we should be using to create a more peaceful world. And so how different would the world be if people received training in waging peace?
“The basic thing is giving people things that are relevant for their lives that are also going to help them create greater well-being in themselves, their relationships and their communities and more broadly; nationally and globally.”
If you liked this post then read How storybooks have failed British Chinese Children or Test your Hunger Games knowledge ahead of the new movie with BLOT’s quiz next.
Paul K Chappell
Paul is the founder of Peace Literacy and the author of six books, most recently Soldiers of Peace. Lecturing across the country and internationally, he also teaches college courses and workshops on Peace Literacy and Peace Leadership and leads a Peace Literacy curricular development team for k-12 and higher education.As a West Point graduate, Iraq War veteran, and former army captain, Paul K. Chappell shows why people need to be as well trained in waging peace as soldiers are in waging war.
Shruthi is a journalism student with a passion for reading, travel, food and music. She likes to spend her free time at Waterstones or journalling whenever she can. She’s passionate about human connection and relationships in books, so that we can learn to better ourselves and how we communicate with others.
Favourite genre: Contemporary romance.