A Year In Books

They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children

Last week, I read They Fight Like Soldiers They Die Like Children by Romeo Dallaire and it might be one of the most upsetting, powerful, heartbreaking, but necessary books I’ve ever read. It’s about the reality of child soldiers- how they are kidnapped, beaten, drugged, raped, forced to kill and maim, all in the name of whatever fighting group they were abducted by. Not for justice. Not for revolution. Instead these soldiers (or guerillas or rebels) kidnap children to fight their battles in the name of cowardice and self-preservation and hatred. And nobody is talking about it. Nobody. It is one of the greatest human rights abuses in the world currently and very little if anything is being done to rectify it and almost nothing is being done to protect these children.

That’s where Dallaire comes in. As a Canadian General working for the United Nations, he witnessed the genocide in Rwanda first hand- including the parts child soldiers played in the massacres. Witnessing that left a permanent mark on Dallaire and since leaving the military he has conducted research at the Carr Center for Human Rights and started his own NGO called CSI (Child Soldier Initiative). And he and his colleagues seem to be the only ones actively searching for prevention, resolution, and rehabilitation for child soldiers.

I have a deep passion for human rights and have read countless memoirs, accounts, and research papers regarding child soldiers. Until, reading They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children I had never felt that anyone had any kind of reasonable solution to the problem. It was a lot of “We have to stop this.” and I agreed, but how? Dallaire attempts, most successfully in my opinion, to create a solution. He suggests the militaries of the world and NGOs cooperate with one another. Which may seem obvious to you, but trust me, as a former volunteer for an East African NGO- it’s revolutionary. Military personnel have the unfortunate obligation of being the ones to enter combat against child soldiers, unwillingly of course, and with great regret. However, their mission is usually to protect as many people as they can and that often is at odds with the rebel militias mission to kill, maim, steal, and massacre as many people as possible. NGOs are responsible for the medical care, social rehabilitation, clean water, food, and many other things that you and I take for granted. Dallaire asserts that pulling on experience from both the combat (military) and social (NGO) sides of conflict is the only way to handle the present child soldier dilema, and the only way to prevent child soldiers from ever being used in war again. He’s realistic- he understands that it will take a lot for the military and NGOs to find cohesion and he understands that even if they are able to create a cohesive plan that it might take decades to truly eradicate the use of child soldiers. He has, what I see as, the best and really the only plan. And we need to listen and help.

Dallaire talks much about the roadblocks he faces, shortage of donations (keep in mind it takes consistent donations to keep a mission like this in operation), bureaucratic red tape, and political nonsense, are his largest obstacles and take up a lot of his time trying to resolve. And, quite frankly, these obstacles are nearly insurmountable. And yet, Dallaire and his colleagues persevere – they meet every challenge straight on and with a passion and hope that I find almost miraculous and certainly inspiring. They aren’t giving up on these kids (and believe me, when I say kids, I mean kids- children as young as 6 are being used as weapons in wars around the globe) and they aren’t giving up on trying to protect future generations of children from living in fear of being turned into expendable killing machines.

This book can be difficult to read at times, it’s upsetting and heartbreaking, but I also feel like I had to read it- and I’m so glad I did. I feel like I have such a better understanding of why, how, and where this happens and how I can help. Dallaire seems to be the only one out there giving this issue a lot of thought and time and his ideas about how to handle child soldiers on and off the field of combat are the best ones I’ve heard. I know it’s a heavy subject, but I really encourage you to read this book and think about these children. And, if you’re so inclined, you can donate to CSI here.

I know this was a really serious post- I promise I’ll be funny again tomorrow. Y’all reading any good books?

22 thoughts on “A Year In Books

  1. Children are taken advantage of around the world in numerous causes. The diamond mines come to mind.

    It might interest you to know using them as weapons of war is nothing new. My cousin was seriously wounded in Vietnam after refusing to shoot what appeared to be a 10-12 year old boy. Instead he turned away and in an effort to distance himself was struck in the back by shrapnel from a grenade the boy tossed at him. My cousin’s comrades took care of what be could not do himself.

    I just read over the weekend “Growing Up Amish” by Ira Wagler. An interesting account of his repeated struggles to reconcile his attraction to the outside world with the deep-rooted, closed society of his faith.

    I enjoy reading your blog, thank you.

  2. I don’t think I could bring myself to read this one, looks good, but I don’t think I would be able to get through it. Thanks for sharing, and for posting on such a hushed subject

  3. Oh and I’ve read some great books this summer!! Secret Daughter, Brooklyn- my fav, the Rice Mother, the Help, all the Peter Jackson books and Peter and the Star Catchers- R.Pearson another fabulous read!!

  4. Amazing story isn’t it? I work with immigrant families from Africa and have heard some of these stories first hand. It is mind boggling that this is some peoples reality. I met one of the lost boys- the boys who wandered the desert. Unbelievable story!!! It’s so immportant to help these people become adjusted in north America. The culture shock for them is equally traumatizing. Nice review Contrary Girl!

  5. Great post!!
    You are right! Somethings may not be easy to take but we have to listen in order to fix the problem.
    I have read up a lot about this situation and it is just heart breaking. It totally feels like no one cares or knows whats going on over there.

    I am reading The Help

      1. Dude whenever I read a book, it engulfs my life at the moment. Right now I am living breathing that book. And I can’t get it out of my head.

        I like it so far. Especially like Minny and Abileen.
        I worry for them. It also makes me notice things about people I have never noticed before either.
        Did you like it?
        What did you think about it?

      2. I liked it. There were parts I was uncomfortable with. I did, however, love the characters of Minny and Abileen- they were such strong women. The movie was really good as well, when you finish, you should check it out.

  6. Craig says:

    I first heard of this book in a story on the news program Democracy Now. But I agree, more people need to be talking of such things.

    And don’t worry, sunny days are made better by the rainy ones, and laughing is better when we know how to cry.


      1. Some of the speech/characterizations came off as bit stereotypical to me but mostly I felt like Stockett glossed over some of the grittier (and more accurate) depictions of they way African-Americans were treated in the South in the 60’s. Overall, I really liked it a lot though.

  7. You have a wonderfully passionate way of describing books that always makes me want to drop whatever I’m doing and start reading. I like your layers, GotC. And I really love this blog!

    1. Thanks for the support! I always get a little worried when I post something like this that people will think I’ve lost my humor mojo, but some things just need to be given proper respect, you know?

      1. I highly doubt that anyone will ever worry that you’ve lost your humor mojo. It’s good to take a moment every now and then to give these things the respect they deserve.

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