The rain was coming down hard. The ground was wet and muddy. The yellow-school buses slowly pulled over in the parking lot of the South Run Park in Springfield, Virginia. Everything about this rainy day was gloomy. But, the students poured out with excitement to play the “game” of snipers, wounded soldiers, and prisoners of war at the Raid Cross 2013.
Raid Cross is an event held by the American Red Cross in the National Capital Region that allows high school students to spend a day exploring humanitarian law. Humanitarian law is the set of rules which protects human life and dignity during the times of war. The day consists of different simulation activities representing war time. The students go through various obstacles and checkpoints, working in teams and experiencing struggles faced during warfare.
As the students registered and were assigned to their teams, expecting the fun-time game to begin, something unexpected happened. The imitation “war guards” lined the group of students up and began shouting at the players. “At first it was like they were joking but then, it got very serious!” one player described the experience later. The guards were intimidating and severe, loud enough to even scare an adult. The players were told to be quiet, sit down, and give up their personal belongings. The purpose of this activity was to raise awareness of how people may feel when they were captured, mistreated, and stripped away from their rights. While some students understood that it was just part of the game and “not really serious”, the message was spread across the players. They began to grow aware of the neglects and abuse others might be going through around the world due to wars.
The next activity was the interrogations. At this point the guards acted threatening and cruel while asking a series of cross-examining questions such as “what are your plans for attack? Where are your weapons hidden?” The guards also made comments like “nobody will rescue you!” “You’re going to lose!” Again, making the players feel like the victims of war, placing them in the situation where their rights are ignored.
Afterwards, the students met with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Delegates. The meeting with the Delegates was soon after the interrogations, to allow the students to understand what the term “prisoners of war” means and learn what their rights are. The Delegates approached students with a calm demeanor and ensured that they were “treated” appropriately. The student-players were asked questions like “how are the jailors treating you?” “Have you been given enough to drink or eat?” The students also were handed the Red Cross Message form, asking them if they wanted to send a personal message to their family or loved ones. The meeting allowed the students to understand the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross, their neutrality in conflicts, and the humanitarian responsibilities.
The day continued with another activity for the students. This time they played the role of snipers and artillery mediators. The students switched roles between the civilian and soldiers. This allowed them to learn the importance of distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants and get the feel of the humanitarian law, which rules that all parties to a conflict must always distinguish between the civilians and soldiers, and that attack against only the combatants is authorized. One student described the experience as “hard” when he attacked a “child-soldier” with his nurf ball. He said, “It was like hitting an innocent person! You don’t know which one to kill or not. It felt so wrong!”
The students also played the role of wounded soldiers facilitators which allowed them to see how wounded persons must be cared for without distinction. The three possible responses from this activity were if students do nothing to help the wounded, if they would approach only the members of their team, or if they will help all the wounded persons. The activity really helped bring out the positive responses from the students.
Struggling on muddy ground, the students worked together as a team to get the “severely wounded” people to the hospital. “Helping the wounded is important! It’s about saving lives” was one student’s response. The message was clear. As one student put it, “life’s hard. Put others before yourself and work with people.”