Tuesday, February 10, 2004

FUTURE VISITORS TO THE HOTTER PARTS OF HELL
How evil were the one or two percent who spent the last 14 years destroying Liberia? For many reasons, the recruitment and gratitutious use of child soldiers is the most insidious and destructive aspect of the Liberan and Sierra Leonian wars.

BBC journalist Mark Doyle, a West Africa veteran, described the conflict in the following way. Entering the world of Liberia's child soldiers is a disturbing experience. Normal moral values are put to one side. Children as young as eight or nine are forcibly recruited, or in some cases volunteer to avenge violent deaths in their own families. They fire rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 rifles, often killing other children in rival militias.

A report from the group Human Rights Watch has extensive testimony from the estimated 15,000 children who have been engaged in combat. They include children who used war names derived from their actions, names like "Laughing and Killing" or "The Castrator". During a recent trip to Liberia, I came across a group of former teenage fighters boasting about their exploits in a marketplace in the eastern Liberian town of Zwedru. They had fought for a rebel group against the government of the now exiled President Charles Taylor, many saying they used powerful assault weapons like AK-47s.

One youth gave his fighter's name, "Bread and Butter". I asked him if he had killed any of Taylor's forces.
"Yes, I fired them immediately," he said, laughing.

"How many did you kill?" I asked.

"I killed many."

One youth gave his fighter's name, "Bread and Butter". I asked him if he had killed any of Taylor's forces.

"Yes, I fired them immediately," he said, laughing.

"How many did you kill?" I asked.

"I killed many."



Bear in mind that we're not talking about young men who are 15 1/2; we're taking about boys who are 12 or 10 or sometimes as young as 8. Bear in mind that the use of small children as soldiers in these two wars was not an accidental byproduct of a long war. It was a conscious strategy by warlords.

These brutes recognized the natural invulnerability that most children feel. They exploited this by drugging or brutalizing the boys so they could be better molded into efficient, fearless and (critically) mindless killers.

War is by its very nature destructive. By making young children complicit in the savagery, it increases the social destruction exponentially. Those who promoted the active use of small boys as soldiers should be put in the dock faster than you can say "Saddam Hussein."


To learn more
-Radio Netherlands' dossier on child soldiers in Liberia
-Radio Netherlands' dossier on child soldiers in Sierra Leone
-Human Rights Watch campaign against the use of child soldiers
-War Child, an organization helping rehabilitate child soldiers

No comments: