Thursday, March 17, 2005

Onwards toy soldiers 

"I want to die as a martyr as my father did. I want to learn how to kill people who entered our country to kill our parents. I'm alone. I don't think that school is something bad but when I hit one of the US guys I feel that I have learned a true lesson, better than mathematics and sciences,"
says 13-year old Mahmoud. His insurgent father was killed by the US troops, his insurgent uncle Abu Omar who takes care of him says there are currently 23 children in Baghdad, orphans or children of insurgents, being used in anti-Coalition actions.

"The insurgents often use the children as informers and messengers, Abu Omar said, as they believe that the US troops are likely to see them as innocent. They are also used in diversion tactics to distract troops so that insurgents can get to their targets more easily. If necessary the children will also use their guns against parked humvees in the streets.

"US Coalition force officials [say] that they have been informed of these kinds of operations and that some children have been captured for interrogation. However, being under age the children are released fairly quickly, often due to pressure from NGOs concerned about the rights of children."
Do I condemn the use of child soldier as a matter of principle? Well, firstly it depends on what you mean by a "child". Some ages are clearly not mature enough to make these sorts of serious, life-and-death decisions by themselves - the 13-year old Mahmoud almost certainly isn't; but what of a 16-year old? Secondly, it does depend on the cause. During the Second World War, just about every resistance movement in Europe was using young people (under 18) as informers, messengers, couriers, and look-outs. In many cases, the youth did also get a chance to take up arms, like the Scouts of the "Grey Ranks" did in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. I would be a hypocrite if I made a blanket condemnation of underaged soldiers, but whereas some sacrifices can be justified when one's fighting for freedom against totalitarianism, it just doesn't seem right when attempting to restore a Baathist dictatorship under the lofty guise of nationalism.


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