What is the theme of A Boy at War by Harry Mazur?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some of the main themes of the book "Boy at War" include war, coming of age, friendships and family, and racism.

Adam Pelko comes from a military family.  He has always thought of the military as "all the spit-and-polish stuff" (Chapter 2), and war as "exciting...action...ships, planes and guns...being faster and smarter than your enemy...defending your country" (Chapter 5).  After experiencing the bombing of Pearl Harbor, however, Adam discovers that war is not "clean...fair...the best man (wins)".  It is "stink and blood and dying" (Chapter 13), and it doesn't "make any sense" (Chapter 22); there are "no bands, no banners, and no waving and cheering", and although there may be heroes, "it only hurt(s)" to think of them (Chapter 24).

Adam must make some hard decisions in the story as he experiences his coming of age.  He finds that, although he understands his father's reasoning when he forbids his son to associate with his friend Davi because he is Japanese, he feels that his father is wrong.  Lieutenant Pelko tells Adam that "what (he) (does) reflects on (his) family...on (his father) and...on the United States Navy", and since the United States appears to be "very close to war with Japan", he should not be seen with his Japanese friend (Chapter 7).  The day Pearl Harbor is bombed, Adam realizes that a lot of things are different than what he had always believed.  The hard decisions of life, such as the task of reconciling the differences between the demands of friendships and family, are his and his alone to make (Chapter 24).

Lieutenant Pelko, although well-meaning, is planting the seeds of racism in his son when he commands him to think about "who he is and who you are" in reference to Adam's Japanese friend Davi (Chapter 7).  Adam himself discovers that racism can occur as a visceral response, when his first impulse at seeing the Japanese bombers raining destruction on the American fleet is to attack Davi in the rowboat they are sharing (Chapter 11).  By following his own rational instincts instead of succumbing to the temptation to stereotype whom the enemy might be, Adam is able to keep things in perspective and escape the pitfall of racist behavior.