Monday, November 28, 2005

Warrior children

Stanley Crouch points out that children have historically been trained as warriors because

...they possess very malleable minds and have not had enough of the life experience necessary to perceive a clear moral relationship to other people. The revolutionary doctrine or the traditional tribal animus or the religious rhetoric will suffice to corrupt them.

Any reading of history will show the truth of this assessment. I noticed some time ago that most wars are started by adults but fought by children. I know that eighteen or twenty is no longer "childhood." But I have met very few people over fifty who think of twenty-two year olds as peers. Even the Constitution has higher age requirements for becoming president.

Jimmie Briggs has written a book called "Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go To War," which gives us a contemporary update on the cruelest form of child abuse. That is what we need to realize about the use of children to do the dirtiest of dirty work, the torturing and killing of people. This has become common to tribal wars, rebel units, religious fanatics and totalitarian regimes. It is estimated that 10% of the world's fighting forces are under 18.
This is an important book because it underlines the universal fact that ours is a time in which our perhaps naive sense of childhood innocence is under assault in both the advanced and developing world. The young are exploited either by the popular entertainment that dehumanizes, fills them with terrible appetites, encourages irresponsible behavior, or promotes, like rap, the hatred of women.

That exploitation, however, is no more than the result of decadence, greed, moral ambiguity and indifference, all propelled by the power of profit.

In "Innocents Lost," Briggs reveals to us the power that is sought through the use of children to dominate or destroy others. Yes, this is the worst form of child abuse. So Briggs makes one unwavering fact clear to those of us who don't know: Humanity is not something you are born with, it is a feeling for life that is passed on to you by your culture and is always the responsibility of adults.

It bears repeating: ...always the responsibility of adults. It is for this reason that reports of prison abuse, random shooting of civilians, swapping war pictures for porn, and the rest of the moral lapses deriving from this war in Iraq are so serious. It's not enough to dismiss any of these behaviors as the antics of a few bad apples or a handful of unprincipled adults. Absent clear signals at the command and policy levels these actions become as much a part of our national image as terrorism becomes part of the image of Islam without clear denunciations on the part of those who know better. If these behaviors are not clearly denounced, they become part of our culture. That is why clear official policies forbidding torture are so important.

Yes, I know the book is not about our young people. Heavens, no! It is about savages and other third-world primitives who still haven't learned to pull up their socks. I can anticipate objections to this post along those lines. To people who think like that I don't expect to be persuasive. I can only point out that I have seen a lot of people in my life, both primitive and sophisticated. And I can report having seen both tenderness and savagery among both. Not to mention a serious number of people who seem to make it through life never having left childhood at all.

Looks like I may have to order this book. Somebody else seems to be connecting the dots.
Thanks to Booker Rising for the link.

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