This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Monday, 26 November 2012

War Kids

Suppose you wanted the ideal soldier – the ideal foot soldier, not necessarily leadership material – what qualities would you look for?

Fearlessness, perhaps; a total disregard for one’s personal safety, and also a ruthless ability to follow orders without thought of the consequences to those on the receiving end. Easy trainability in this ruthlessness? Certainly. Also a lower level of physical requirements of food, clothing and so on would be useful; as well as, of course, easy availability and expendability.

Now, assuming you don’t have the money to construct robot troops, where do you find all that?

Some of you know that recently I wrote a story about child soldiers (anyone who’s interested can find it here, if you haven’t read it already and are interested). Now, while writing that story, I did a fair amount of research on the phenomenon of child soldiers, not that I was completely unaware of it before; and what struck me again was that child soldiers were, and are, valuable to warlords and rebel gangs because they are fearless, easily controlled, and will do anything they are told to by their commanders, whom they look up to as father figures.

In the civil war in Sierra Leone, for instance (and I’d recommend the excellent book A Long Way Gone by the ex-child soldier Ishmael Beah) the child soldiers of the Revolutionary United Front of Foday Sankoh, hopped up on drugs, were brutal and vicious psychos to a kid. They thought nothing of cutting off limbs and gouging out eyes and so on (Beah describes one particular mutilation, “One Love”, which comprised chopping off all the victim’s fingers and leaving only the thumbs). These kids also fought fanatically because they had no conception of personal mortality, as children don’t, and because they had no parents except their commanders. They had no parents because the parents had been killed, often by the children themselves on RUF orders. And children are small, need less food, clothing and personal space, and can be replaced quickly and easily.

Can you understand why these organisations value child soldiers so much now?

Somehow, whenever I think of this, a slightly disturbed feeling stirs within me – memories of the Hitler Jugend of Nazi Germany, and I’m sure other youth organisations around the world, where kids too young to know better were taught to revere a father figure and obey orders without question, even to the death (and to hate without question; oneHitler Jugend marching song went "When Jewish blood springs from the knife/ Everything goes twice as well!").

And another memory; my own days as a member of the National Cadet Corps, marching in uniform and learning to handle a .303 Lee Enfield rifle too heavy for me. I can’t be positive, and I never had to find out, but I think if my section commander at the time had ordered, I’d have fired that gun at a human being without too many scruples.

At the time, I was eleven years old.

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