Child Soldiers

It looks like Al-Qaeda is taking a lesson from African militias and recruiting children to take on their enemies. The Washington Post reports that they are training boys as young as 10 to kidnap and kill, U.S. and Iraqi officials. Propaganda videos obtained from insurgent hideouts depict masked boys wielding guns and kicking down doors. Watching a sample of the videos on YouTube is chilling:

Books and Culture recently had review of a book about the phenomena of child soldiers in Africa that illuminates the problem:

New wars are fought with light weapons—M16s or AK-47s, grenade tubes or shoulder-fired rocket launchers, suicide-bomber vests—that can be managed by a child. Many believe that children are ideal recruits. They can be easily dominated by older men, and their minds molded to foolish courage and unprincipled savagery. Many new armies use initiations that separate children from their old community, convincing them they can never go back. New soldiers may be forced to kill someone, even a parent or a sibling. Girls may be raped. In Angola, soldiers were forced to sing and dance all night for days on end. Deprived of sleep and rest, they could be easily manipulated.

Since the value of human life is so pitifully low such groups cannot survive for very long. Furthermore, when questions of justice are laid on the table things get complicated fast Consider an example from B&C’s article:

Jimmie Briggs relates the story of 16-year-old Francois, who during the Rwandan genocide was forced to kill his own nephews with a hoe in order to “prove” that he was reliably Hutu. (The four nephews had a Tutsi father.) After spending three years in prison for his crime of genocide, “Francois went home a scarred, empty man … . He received no counseling support … . Nor was there any type of coordination with his home community.” Though he has since married and has a child, he has never told his wife why he went to prison. Was justice done? Was reconciliation achieved? What should have been done?

Are child soldiers victims or victimizers? It is hard to tell. But the people who have to answer that question won’t be armchair philosophers—it will be our men and women serving in uniform perhaps with children of their own.

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