SinChil 05-12-183




P. W. Singer

Pantheon Books, 2005, 268 pp., ISBN 0-375-42349-4


Singer is a Harvard Ph.D., international expert in 21st-century warfare, and military advisor on child soldiers.  He is the author of two books on the military.  Singer explores how armies and warlords alike have targeted children, turning them into soldiers and terrorists.  Besides the tragedy to the children themselves, the use of children is reducing stability and increasing chaos in many places in the world.  I read the first three chapters of the book.  The remaining parts of the book are on how children are recruited and turned into soldiers, implications on the battlefield, the new children of terror, and responding to the problem.


The wars of our times are increasingly being fought by children.  Causes may be political, but they also may be economic, social, religious or criminal.  They may fight in a state army, a terrorist cell, a warlord’s gang or a drug cartel paramilitary.  (ix)


“These new soldiers are not simply children; they can also be callous killers capable of the most terrible acts of cruelty and brutality.  Many are adrift, having lost their entire families, including some by their own hands; they may know nothing except a world of violence.” (x)


The rebels told me to join them, but I said no.  Then they killed my smaller brother.  I changed my mind.” L., age seven  (3)


“The deliberate targeting of civilians, in particular children, has been the single greatest taboo of all,...”  Unfortunately, in the chaos and callousness of modern-day warfare, this law has seemingly broken down.” (4)


“The ancient distinction between combatants and civilians as targets of violence has arguably disappeared....”  In many present-day conflicts civilians are the primary targets.  In World War I, about 10% of casualties were civilians, in WW II nearly 50%, and now the overwhelming majority of those killed in conflicts are civilians.  (4-5)


“Because the most basic laws of war have increasingly been abandoned, conflicts have been characterized by horrific levels of violence.”  “In the last decade of warfare, more than two million children have been killed....”  Six million have been disabled or seriously injured, one million have been orphaned, and 25 million have been driven from their homes by conflict, about half the refugees in the world. (5)


Children are not only the new targets but often the perpetrators.  Of the armed conflicts in the world, 3/4 include significant numbers of children (i.e. under 18) as active combatants.   (6)


As much as 80% - nearly 10,000 - of the fighters in the 1991-2001 Sierra Leone civil war were children, many of them abducted. (15)  In the Americas since 1990, child soldiers have fought in Columbia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Peru.  The largest number, more than 11,000, are in Colombia. (16)  20,000 children were combatants in Liberia’s war, up to 70% of factions’ fighting forces. (19)  There are presently 30,000 – 50,000 children soldiers in the DRC (formerly Zaire), up to 30% of all combatants.  (21) 


Children are fighting in Algeria, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, Tajikistan, Yemen, and Palestine.  These include radical Islamic groups.  “The first modern use of child soldiers in the region was actually during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. (21)  Some 100,000 Iranian boy soldiers may have died.  Saddam Hussein “built up an entire apparatus designed to pull children into conflict.”  “More than 8000 young Iraqis were members of this group in Baghdad alone.” (22)  They play a significant role in the insurgency.  (24)


“Sudan has seen the largest use of child soldiers in the region, with estimates reaching as high as 100,000 children who have served on both sides of the two decades-old civil war.” “The government has also targeted children in the towns it holds in the south to use against their kinsmen in the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).” “The SPLA rebel group, in turn, has relied greatly on child fighters in its battle with the government.” (24)


About 30% of all Afghan children have participated in military activities.  The Taliban gained strength by recruiting young refugees who were attending Pakistani madrassahs.  (25)


In Asia, children are engaged in insurgencies in Cambodia, East Timor, India, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and the Solomon Islands. (26)  “Children have particularly been at the center of the explosion of rebel groups and internecine fighting on the many islands of Indonesia, such as in Ambon.” Myanmar has more than 75,000 child soldiers.  Up to 4% percent of army recruits are under 18.  (27)


“Child soldiers are a new feature of nearly every area at war in our world.” (28)  More than 300,000 children are, or recently were, fighting in wars.  (29) 


“More and more of the world is being sucked into a desolate moral vacuum. This is a space devoid of the most basic human values....” (30, quoting Graca Machel, wife of Nelson Mandela, a special UN expert on child soldiers).


Of the armed forces that employ children soldiers, about 30% use girls.  (32)  Sexual abuse is often a common part of the girls’ soldiering experience. (33)


“The desperate position in which many children around the world find themselves is almost unimaginable.” (38)  “Three billion people, roughly half the world’s population, currently subsist on $2 or less a day.  The ensuing magnitude of global human insecurity is stunning in all its measures:” including security, income, literacy, homes, water, food, etc. (39)  “Each of these measures of quality of life and hopes for the future is worsening.  The brunt of these socioeconomic problems has fallen on the youngest segments of the population....  Unprecedented numbers of children around the world are undereducated, malnourished, marginalized, and disaffected.  Almost a quarter of all the world’s youth survive on less than a dollar a day.”  [Reminds me of Paul Borthwick’s question about our future missionaries: How can people accustomed to $3 coffee minister to people who live on a dollar a day? dlm]


“These desperate and excluded children constitute a huge pool of labor for the illegal economy, organized crime, and armed conflicts.  “We’ve replaced the threat of the nuclear bomb with the threat of a social bomb.” (40, quoting Juan Somavi, secretary general of the World Social Summit)


This represents “a cascading breakdown of our increasingly complex ecological, political, and economic systems, and [they] have even come up with a new term for it, ‘synchronous failure.’” (40)


AIDS “is gradually creating a new pool of orphans, a group especially susceptible to being pulled into child soldiering.”  “Both the stigma of the disease and the sheer number of victims will overwhelm the communities and extended families that would normally look after these orphans.”  (42) 


“About half the ongoing wars in the world are entering their second generation of prospective fighters.  In such extended conflicts, children have grown up surrounded by violence, and often see it as a permanent way of life.” (43)


“The weapons that shape contemporary warfare are the ones that are the simplest and least costly.  These ‘small arms,’ or ‘light weapons,’ include rifles, grenades, light machine guns, light mortars, land mines, and other weapons that are ‘man-portable’....” (45)  Modern weapons are so light and simple that small children can use them. (46)  They are more destructive and they have proliferated.  At the end of the Cold War countries dumped them on the market and there is a glut of cheap weapons.  “There are enough small arms for every person on the planet to have twelve! (47)  “In Uganda and Sudan, an Ak-47 can be purchased for the cost of a chicken.” (48) 


Tribal warfare in Africa has changed.  The seat of authority has moved from the elders to the youth with very bad consequences for managing conflict and a general weakening of the state.  (49)


The majority of conflicts carried out in the developing world have become “messier and criminalized.  In many cases, the private profit motive has become a central motivator.”  “With enough money anyone can equip a powerful military force.  With a willingness to use crime, nearly anyone can generate enough money.” (49-50) 


A particularly lucrative area has been the international drug trade.  For example, 50 percent of opposition groups’ funds in Tajikistan are from drug income.  The estimates are even higher in Colombia, where 90 percent of the cocaine sold in the United States originates.  The rebels and their paramilitary opponents are thought to pull as much as 80 percent of their funding from the cocaine trade.” (51)


“In the Philippines, Abu Sayyaf funds itself through kidnapping, while the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka run a worldwide shipping conglomerate.”  “Many of these bands continue violent activities long after the original rationale for their formation has lost meaning.”  “Warmaking serves as an alternative system of profit and power.”  Sometimes defeating the enemy becomes a secondary goal to profiting from the general chaos brought about by the war. (51)


“The costs of using children in this manner are considered quite low.”  They are available and easy to transform into combatants.  They are rarely paid and have little choice.  Moral opprobrium is the only major risk...”  And they don’t care about public opinion. (52)


[This was enough to ruin my Sunday afternoon and I decided I had learned all I really needed to know and did not finish the book.  dlm]


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