Discussion: Child Soldiers

Posted: 3rd May 2011 by onyxhawke in Uncategorized
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I was spelunking across the web, and tripped over this post by Mark Van Name on child soldiers. He’s actually donating every cent he makes from the book to a charity on a book he wrote on the topic.

So here’s the discussion, I’ll toss in my two cents in a bit, but what are some of the reasons someone (real world or fictional) someone might use child soldiers?

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  • Hmmm, thinking as a fictional bad guy for a minute, these are some of the reasons why I as an Evil Overlord(tm) might use child soldiers:
    1. Costs less to feed them that it does full-grown adults
    2. Can house more of them in a smaller space
    3. It might freak out the enemy to have to shoot children
    4. They might be easier to snatch and brainwash into following my cause
    5. They can be used for cannon fodder, thus preserving more highly-trained soldiers for better uses
    6. Any that survive long enough will probably be fanatically loyal to me

    • There is also the question of places children will pass without suspicion on any level that adults would be caught immediately. Humans, even ones in areas that have child soldiers as a fact of life aren't hard wired to view children as threats even in places they shouldn't be.

  • Laura has good points, IMO, chiefest being the last four.
    The 'Cong used kids, there are bunch of guys who still have nightmares about it. We'll have yet another generation of it coming up, AQ likes to use them also. There were instances of it all over central Africa a few years ago.
    We had our own, in the Revolution and War Between the States, they were called drummer-boys.

    • Hmm I'm not quite ready to toss auxiliaries and non combatants (at least the ones who in theory were not supposed to fight) in with actual foot soldiers. My belief that every cabin boy and cooks monkey was expected to fight is a touch mushy at this point. Young midshipmen are different, but I doubt every cooks assistant under Nelson or whichever bungler Napolean sent against him were expected to fight to the knife.

      • And possibly more to the point, drummer-boys and the like were generally not going to be fighting offensively? (I haven't researched this, so I could well be wrong!) Defensively, sure, expected! But not marching out in little half-sized squadrons, or sneaking around with daggers to pour poison in the enemy stewpots.
        (Of course, there's also the point below: what age is "child"? I'm thinking 7-12 here…)

  • One of the things that bothers me a lot in fantasy, actually, is when it behaves as though our age(s) of majority are universal and completely rational, instead of culturally based and kind of guesswork. Neither 18 nor 21 confers anything magical upon a person, and a lot of cultures simply don't have the resources to wait until people are all the way past puberty to put them to work. That'll trickle over into the work of war. If a 14-year-old is doing adult work in peacetime, it's a lot harder to convince them they shouldn't do it in wartime as well.
    Also, this is not the same as an organized soldiery, but if your home is being invaded, you do what you have to.

  • Another reason for child soldiers might be illness for the adults – no one left but children and they are attacked? They fight. But Mrissa seems to have hit the nail on the head as to why it happens in the real world, a general use of younger folks for adult things.

  • This lists some of the organizations and nations using child soldiers around the world as of 2010. <a href="http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N10/311/28/PDF/N1031128.pdf?OpenElement” target=”_blank”>http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N10/311/28/PDF/N1031128.pdf?OpenElement

  • The idea that you had to reach 18 or 21 to be an adult is a fairly recent one, historically it has often been much younger. The cadets at both VMI and the Citadel have battle streamers on their colors, with many of the cadets at the time having been younger than 18. It's easy for a relatively wealthy country to have laws about how old one must be to earn a living, in poor countries, anybody in the family who can earn money does. That includes doing things that most Westerners consider unsavory, such as prostitution or serving in an armed party. Heck, it wasn't that long ago that getting married at 15 or 16 was common for women, younger wasn't that uncommon, and being single at 20 meant they were an old maid.
    Laura mentions some relevant points, particularly #4. Teenagers tend to be very emotional and not prone to critical thinking, they can be more easily manipulated into fighting than an older person with more experience (this, btw, is why some people want to get anything military out of the schools, including recruiters and JROTC).
    There's also the factor that a younger body tolerates the abuses of military service better, there's a reason the infantry is considered a young man's game, my brother at 29 is starting to notice his body slowing down some compared to a few years ago, and he's at a level of fitness compared to Olympic athletes (for those who don't know, he competed in the 2009 Best Ranger Competition, pitting over fifty two-man Ranger qualified teams against each other in a 60 hour continuous competition, over half of the teams did not finish the competition, his did).

  • I don't really care why a person would use child soldiers, fictional or otherwise. It is a bad concept. Exploting children in literature could make it seem ok to do this in the real world. This ranks on my list of no nos as number 1.

    • While an author should certainly think very strongly about the issues involved, and while it is probably ethical to seek to avoid glorifying or normalizing child soldiers, I don't think it's a bad concept — for the quickie schlock fantasy version, if the Evil Overlord (has not read the Evil Overlord Rules and) is rounding up the children of his kingdom to fight in the armies, then that's not likely to make it seem "okay." It's likely to make him seem like an Evil Overlord!
      For something my kid's reading this very moment, the first of the Septimus Heap books has a character known as something like Boy 457 (I may mis-remember the numbers), who is part of, essentially, a soldiers-in-training "orphanage" (much like a janissary situation, but without pay) — and is unwillingly brought along by an escaping hero. (After a while, he reconciles himself to freedom and starts liking it.)

    • There is a not subtle difference between using an idea and exploiting something. Take the song "Little Weapon" by Lupe Fiasco, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UktEpUM-iMM It'd be hard to show this song as glorifying child soldiers. And Christopher Rowley's "Bazil Broketail" features fighters we first meet when Relkin is in his early teens, the series hardly glorifies child warriors, war or the like in fact with a slightly harder edge you couldn't call it anything but a polemic against them.
      The "childhood" you and I speak of that is fueled by images of the the Cleaver's, Brady's and Huxtable's is…a social invention of the middle industrial age.

  • One thing I haven't heard mentioned yet is that children haven't completed their emotional development (not that anyone really has, but you know what I mean), and may not be as conflicted. I have to teach my son not to fight, and when he talks about superheroes, I have to remind him that superheroes live by a code, and they don't kill bad guys but turn them over to the police to be sent to jail (we haven't gotten to trial by jury yet).
    If a child is taught that it's OK to kill, and that one side is good and the other evil, then that child will serve ruthlessly and unswervingly, and will not hesitate to things that would make an adult quit the cause.
    In the real world, it may be more about the number of boots on the ground. Enlisting people who wouldn't normally be allowed means that you get a larger army. But if I were going to put child warriors in a book, then I would almost certainly add a scene in which some villain waxes poetic about the ruthlessness of children.

    • There is that, childhood is often called "the formative years" because they are when morals are shaped and short circuiting this development with hardcore indoctrination like some religious groups and most radical armed groups practice makes them more efficient and focused killers.