“In many parts of the world, in many battles, leaders of armed movements enlist young children – both boys and girls – to carry out military or terrorist operations. In some cases, these children and teens are regularly drugged with substances that will make them more aggressive in their actions and less apprehensive when it comes to one’s natural fear of losing limbs or life. In these situations, it becomes much more difficult by moral standards (if not by those standards related to internationally accepted rules of war) to differentiate between a soldier and civilian. Certainly, when the child is shooting at you and is dressed in military garb, one could understand the viewpoint that this child is in fact a soldier. But from the kid’s perspective, it’s not quite that clear.
“There are other examples of this blurred line between civilian (or forced fighter) and members of a military force. In the earliest days of our confrontation with the Taliban, there were many stories written about the forced recruitment of young males who were handed a gun and sent to the front lines. In many cases, these ‘soldiers’ were given no viable alternative. Either they joined the battle or they were killed and their family members were endangered. So when the front lines of the Taliban resistance were obliterated, one can assume that among the dead were many of these young men who chose to stand in the line of fire only because the alternative was even worse – and in many cases they were likely supportive of the other side. After all, the Afghan people were the most tormented victims of the Taliban for years before most of us heard of their horrible regime.
“Under dictatorial rulers, being forced to fight against one’s own personal cause is commonplace. In a recent article in The Atlantic on Saddam’s rule in Iraq, Mark Bowden (author of Black Hawk Down) describes a scenario faced by one combatant during the Gulf War:
“There was no hope: he foresaw death everywhere. If you went toward the American lines, they would shoot you. If you stayed in the open, they would blow you up. If you dug a hole and buried yourself, American bunker-buster bombs would stir your remains with the sand. If you ran, your own commanders would kill you?because they would be killed if their men fled. If a man was killed running away, his coffin would be marked with the word “jaban,” or “coward.” His memory would be disgraced, his family shunned. There would be no pension for them from the state, no secondary school for his children. “Jaban” was a mark that would stain the family for generations. There was no escaping it.
Some things are worse than staying with your friends and waiting to die. Hussain’s unit manned an anti aircraft gun. He never even saw the American fighter jet that took off his leg.”…
“So is the person described above (and the thousands of his fellow fighters who lost much more than legs) a soldier, or a civilian placed in the line of fire by an insane ruler who calls for holy martyrdom from the safety of an underground bunker?
“This is the situation for many citizens who live under the heavy hand of a tyrant. They live for years under the dictatorship of a madman and often their only way out is to be fodder on the front lines, killed at the hands of their liberators. And somewhere, there is always another thug collecting kids for the next unholy battle. “