At the height of the insurgency in Iraq, when we took a moment to stop and look, we could try to imagine what life was like for Iraqi children trying to go to school, trying to avoid the bullets and bombs that struck, seemingly at random, in their neighborhoods. Or think about the children who knew those killed by an American cluster bomb in Yemen, a bomb that was launched on the direct command of President Barack Obama after agreeing to a target identified in late 2009 by the Special Operations Command. Imagine waking up and trying to sleep wondering if you will accidentally be the next "effect" identified by a foreign force.

But the most vivid picture of what it's like to grow up in a war zone comes from a source much closer to home. A month ago, This American Life aired a two-part radio program about Harper High School in the West Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. You've probably heard of Chicago's gun violence problem in the abstract, or maybe became aware of it when a young woman who performed at President Obama's second inaugural was caught in a cross-fire a few days after she returned to Illinois. It's easy to be maudlin or bathetic about a subject like this, but the team at This American Life opted for a much simpler, more direct approach. They describe what life is like for an average teenager at a school where 29 current and former students were shot in the year before the radio producers arrived.

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Marc Ambinder

Marc Ambinder is's editor-at-large. He is the author, with D.B. Grady, of The Command and Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry. Marc is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic and GQ. Formerly, he served as White House correspondent for National Journal, chief political consultant for CBS News, and politics editor at The Atlantic. Marc is a 2001 graduate of Harvard. He is married to Michael Park, a corporate strategy consultant, and lives in Los Angeles.