Thursday, April 8, 2010
P.W. Singer's Children of War charges that the introduction of child soldiers to modern warfare represents a paradigmatic shift in combat. He points to the exponential increase in civilian fatalities from World War I to more recent conflicts as a direct result of this change, and that the targeting of civilians in combat is both a cause and an effect of the exploitation of child soldiers.
Although I agree that the organized, purposeful use of child soldiers represents a horrifying change in combat and a fundamental schism in the fabric of the communities in which it occurs, I would disagree that civilians have historically been spared in previous wars - one only has to look at the massacres of civilian populations in the land wars of Europe and Asia prior to World War I to understand that civilians, while absent from the battlefield, suffer tremendously during wartime.
That aside, P.W. Singer's book offers tremendous insight into the various countries that have seen the highest exploitation of child soldiers. Although the first country that springs to mind is Africa, he gives countries such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Thailand due consideration, which is very helpful in reminding readers that child soldiers are exploited worldwide. Singer has done his homework, and he takes the reader inside the organization of groups like the Tamil Tigers, LTTE, Lord's Resistance Army, and other 'rebel' groups. His research makes it clear that these groups recruit children purposefully and have organized brigades made up of child soldiers.
The reasons are clear- children are easier to control than adults, cost less to feed, are considered more expendable, have an easier time making it past enemy defenses (especially against forces that are reluctant to engage child soldiers), and are easier to manipulate psychologically than adults.
In the earlier chapters, Singer's writing has an almost textbook-like rhythm to it. He provides plenty of statistics, and although his writing is arguably the weakest when it comes to the sociological aspects of child soldiers, he does a workmanlike job of explaining how child soldiers rupture the skeins of a community and engender a cycle of violence that, as of yet, has not been broken. The later chapters of his book, dealing with reintegration of the child soldier and the inadequate efforts of local and international groups to offer therapy and reintegration support to former child fighters, present a more personal side- Singer is obviously furious at the lack of support dedicated to these programs, and the UN resolutions, while noble, have clearly had little effect on the ground. Even those groups who have made showy 'releases' of child soldiers have witnesses scammed.
Singer's book helps tie the threads of child soldiers, modern warfare, social and economic instability, and the sluggish realization of the global community that unrest in Sierra Leone may translate into a bombing in North America. Hopefully, others will take note.