Making a case for peace

Students document the horrors of World War II with a new exhibit


Mike Phillips

The Peace Museum has a mission: to promote peace through the arts. And 14 Chicago high school students have been taking up that mission this summer by putting together a new exhibit that will open at the Peace Museum Sept. 1, about three weeks ahead of World Peace Day on Sept. 21. It will then tour the country and possibly make a stop at the United Nations.

Their project, a 5-by-5-foot multimedia globe, tells the stories of those who lived through World War II and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The students hope to teach other kids about the horrors of war—especially nuclear war—and prevent it from happening again.

"We hope to reach our community," says Dwight Jackson, 19. "I would like to inform my peers so that they can control their future."

For six weeks, the students spent 4½ hours a day, five days a week interviewing survivors of World War II, including people who survived the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

All of those interviewed grew up in the shadow of the violence of the war, whether they lived in America’s heartland, South Africa, Russia, Germany, Poland, China, Cuba or Iraq. Some lived in Japan during the war; others survived the Japanese internment camps in the United States.

What started it all

The backdrop for the student’s interviews, and where they spent much of their summer vacation, was a collection of graphic photos and artifacts from the blast sites in Japan. The recently closed exhibit at the Peace Museum marked the 60th anniversary of the bombings.

That exhibit sparked the idea to do a student-led project, says Melissa Sue McGuire, the museum’s director.

The photos were of flattened landscapes, severely burned women and children and the shells of burned buildings and buses. Some of the artifacts included burned clothing, melted roof tiling and a partially melted metal cross found near the body of a victim.

These sobering reminders of a horrific day 60 years ago affected the teens on the project in ways they had not expected.

"In school they mention it [the atomic bombings] but this was a shock," says Jasmine Tillman, 16. "It’s real sad."

"I will tell people about it," says Portia Madden, 16.

"This has changed my perspective on how I react to violence," Jackson adds. "The pictures that I see here are brutal."

Lindsay Woge, a programming staff member at the museum, has been working closely with the students. She says that the thought-provoking exhibit helped the students approach the people they were interviewing with a different level of respect.

"No matter how much research they do, making a bond with the interviewees deeply affected some of these youth. It was a really powerful way to learn history," she says.

A new view of the world

The students have interviewed 13 people and those stories will be a large part of the globe, which represents the far-reaching effects of the war and the atomic bombs.

Inside the globe will be audio and video clips of the students’ interviews, telling the stories of the children and young adults of a war-torn era.

The museum has also received permission to use excerpts from Nelson

Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.

Visitors will be able to peer inside through openings located at different countries on the globe.

"The idea is to bring many different types of people together in one physical space," McGuire says.

The globe’s exterior is constructed of wire and metal bars, meant to represent the prison—both physical and psychological—that kids from all around the world found themselves locked in, together, by the dramatic events of 1945.

The storytelling is the key to this exhibit. And the fact that teenagers did the interviewing and that they will be the ones passing those stories down to another generation is exactly the effect the Peace Museum staff hoped for.

Woge thinks people of all ages will be able to come and look at the globe and get something out of it. Says Tillman, "This stuff can happen to anybody. I’ll always be aware of what can happen, even to people our age."

The globe will be on display at the museum for approximately one month before heading out on tour.

The 24-year-old Peace Museum is located in Garfield Park within the Gold Dome Building at 100 N. Central Park Ave., Chicago.

For more information on the traveling globe or current exhibits, call (773) 638-6450 or visit

Mike Phillips is a dad and assistant to the editor at Chicago Parent. He lives in Chicago.

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