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?