Child Soldiers

A documentary version of P.W. Singer's book Children at War will be on The History Channel on Dec. 29 at 7:00pm. Find it directly or, as Singer suggests, set your Tivo to search for “Child Warriors.” From Peter:

I have not actually seen this version (I consulted and interviewed for it, but have no final approval), so am just as interested as you to see how it turned out. I must say it has been fascinating to watch its evolution over the last year, from the perspective of an author as well as just media consumer. It started out a 2 hour version, with film crews going everywhere from Colombia to Nepal, gathering some amazing footage and interviews of child soldiers. But when they got back, the network decided that what they had gathered was too “depressing” (imagine that, a documentary about child soldiers didn’t turn out to be a pick me up) and so it was redone to a shorter version, following one former child soldier in particular, with a bit more of a “feel good ending.” In either case, it is great to see the stories get out there and hopefully, help bring some more needed attention to the issue.

Talking to Singer about Child Soldiers and it's easy to be stunned. The shock doesn't just come from the horrors, the subject just isn't a feel good subject, but from the lack of attention the subject gets. I did a short presentation on the subject a couple of months ago and the only substantial research available was Singer's.

As with most of the world's problems, there's an NGO for this subject: the Coalition to stop the use of Child Soldiers. However, they largely ignore the societal impact of child soldiers as they use toned down images of child soldiers. Largely missing from the NGO's narrative is the break down of societal, normative, and institutional structures that contribute to and are a product of the use of children. Schools and orphanages are used as “recruiting” pools are either perverted or destroyed to fulfill the requirements.

While the Coalition ignores this, Singer emphasizes this as well as the related fact child soldiers reduce the need for political and ideological support for the purpose of war because kids don’t know or don’t care about the cause. They are expendable resources, even if barely within the control of their handlers.

Downplaying by the Coalition of the stark realities of child soldiers is probably to prevent the situation from seeming too helpless for potential contributors, but the more likely reason is to not cannibalize from the Coalition members themselves. Either way, their neutering of the issue and ignoring the environment child soldiers represent -- state and societal failure -- means there is an absence of a real voice for their plight, their impact, and finding a solution.

Singer, for his part, is rarely engaged to speak on the subject. Even when he is, questions frequently veer towards his more public research on contractors.

Earlier this year I linked to three reviews Eddie of Hidden Unities wrote of Children at War. Read them and then watch docu.