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Children at War

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From U.S. soldiers having to fight children in Afghanistan and Iraq to juvenile terrorists in Sri Lanka to Palestine, the new, younger face of battle is a terrible reality of 21st century warfare. Indeed, the very first American soldier killed by hostile fire in the “War on Terrorism” was shot by a fourteen-year-old Afghan boy. Children at War is the first comprehensive ex From U.S. soldiers having to fight children in Afghanistan and Iraq to juvenile terrorists in Sri Lanka to Palestine, the new, younger face of battle is a terrible reality of 21st century warfare. Indeed, the very first American soldier killed by hostile fire in the “War on Terrorism” was shot by a fourteen-year-old Afghan boy. Children at War is the first comprehensive examination of a disturbing and escalating phenomenon: the use of children as soldiers around the globe. Interweaving explanatory narrative with the voices of child soldiers themselves, P.W. Singer, an internationally recognized expert in modern warfare, introduces the brutal reality of conflict, where children are sent off to fight in war-torn hotspots from Colombia and the Sudan to Kashmir and Sierra Leone. He explores the evolution of this phenomenon, how and why children are recruited, indoctrinated, trained, and converted to soldiers and then lays out the consequences for global security, with a special case study on terrorism. With this established, he lays out the responses that can end this horrible practice. What emerges is not only a compelling and clarifying read on the darker reality of modern warfare, but also a clear and urgent call for action.


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From U.S. soldiers having to fight children in Afghanistan and Iraq to juvenile terrorists in Sri Lanka to Palestine, the new, younger face of battle is a terrible reality of 21st century warfare. Indeed, the very first American soldier killed by hostile fire in the “War on Terrorism” was shot by a fourteen-year-old Afghan boy. Children at War is the first comprehensive ex From U.S. soldiers having to fight children in Afghanistan and Iraq to juvenile terrorists in Sri Lanka to Palestine, the new, younger face of battle is a terrible reality of 21st century warfare. Indeed, the very first American soldier killed by hostile fire in the “War on Terrorism” was shot by a fourteen-year-old Afghan boy. Children at War is the first comprehensive examination of a disturbing and escalating phenomenon: the use of children as soldiers around the globe. Interweaving explanatory narrative with the voices of child soldiers themselves, P.W. Singer, an internationally recognized expert in modern warfare, introduces the brutal reality of conflict, where children are sent off to fight in war-torn hotspots from Colombia and the Sudan to Kashmir and Sierra Leone. He explores the evolution of this phenomenon, how and why children are recruited, indoctrinated, trained, and converted to soldiers and then lays out the consequences for global security, with a special case study on terrorism. With this established, he lays out the responses that can end this horrible practice. What emerges is not only a compelling and clarifying read on the darker reality of modern warfare, but also a clear and urgent call for action.

30 review for Children at War

  1. 5 out of 5

    Francine Uenuma

    Informative look at how children become soldiers and how they are brainwashed to become mechanically violent. This is a common problem all over the world, and it's especially scary because they are far less discriminating than adult soldiers (i.e., more likely to just shoot you for no reason if you encounter one). He also talks about efforts to rehabilitate rescued children and the difficulties they face in trying to get over the trauma and the guilt they experience from being forced to kill at Informative look at how children become soldiers and how they are brainwashed to become mechanically violent. This is a common problem all over the world, and it's especially scary because they are far less discriminating than adult soldiers (i.e., more likely to just shoot you for no reason if you encounter one). He also talks about efforts to rehabilitate rescued children and the difficulties they face in trying to get over the trauma and the guilt they experience from being forced to kill at such an early age.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Excellent introduction and analysis of the presence of child soldiers in the conflicts of the emerging nations. I felt that Signer does a very good job of explaining what conditions result in childern going to war, how they are indoctrinated and used, and why their presence in the conflict zones tend to lengthen and intensify those conflicts.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    An incredible review of the use of child soldiers in several culturally and geographically distinct areas, this book gives insight into the common threads of this phenomenon and suggestions on what can be done to curb its practice.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    Shocking, disturbing and eye-opening are the only words I can use to describe this book. I did not comprehend the depth of involvement of children in warfare all over the world. Please, please read this book. It is a masterful work that you will never forget.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Wolf

    The book seemed well researched but the writing irritated me. Both the reasoning for all the author's arguments and the inner topics up for discussion were circular and incredibly frustrating to reread -repeatedly. It's also a little outdated now, considering more than half of the book was statistics from 2006 or before. Quotes were thrown in occasionally to add some realism to the dry logic, and that was a good touch, but sometimes the quotes seemed misplaced and slightly irrelevant. The book c The book seemed well researched but the writing irritated me. Both the reasoning for all the author's arguments and the inner topics up for discussion were circular and incredibly frustrating to reread -repeatedly. It's also a little outdated now, considering more than half of the book was statistics from 2006 or before. Quotes were thrown in occasionally to add some realism to the dry logic, and that was a good touch, but sometimes the quotes seemed misplaced and slightly irrelevant. The book covered the topic well enough but I wish there had been more information instead of the repetitive... uh, rambling, for lack of a better word.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bruce

    Singer gives a sobering social and political analysis on the increased use of seven to seventeen year-olds to fight the civil wars of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It includes over thirty pages of endnotes and includes the words of former child soldiers who fought in Columbia, Lebanon, Liberia, Kashmir, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, and Sudan. It begins with a quote from a seven-year-old:“The rebels told me to join them, but I said no. Then they killed my smaller brother. I change Singer gives a sobering social and political analysis on the increased use of seven to seventeen year-olds to fight the civil wars of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It includes over thirty pages of endnotes and includes the words of former child soldiers who fought in Columbia, Lebanon, Liberia, Kashmir, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, and Sudan. It begins with a quote from a seven-year-old:“The rebels told me to join them, but I said no. Then they killed my smaller brother. I changed my mind.” Why did the “recruitment and employment of child solders…one of the most flagrant violations of the norms of international human rights [and:] contrary to the general practices of the last four millennia of warfare” suddenly become so prevalent? Singer cites three main causes. The first is poverty. The booming global economy of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries left many people behind. “Indeed, three billion people, roughly half the world’s population, currently [2005:] subsists on $2 or less a day.” He then goes on to translate this poverty into its results:, illiteracy, inadequate housing or the complete lack of housing, lack of access to safe drinking water, malnutrition, disease, and civil war. The second is the technological advance in small arms: automatic rifles, land mines, and rocket-propelled grenades, are now light enough and simple enough to use and maintain that even a child can do it. “The ubiquitous and Russian-designed Kalashnikov AK-47, which weighs 10 ½ pounds, is a prime example. Having only nine moving parts, it is brutally simple. Interviews reveal that it generally takes children around thirty minutes to learn how to use one. The weapon is also designed to be exceptionally hardy. It requires little maintenance and can even be buried in dirt for storage…Thus, a handful of children now can have the equivalent firepower of an entire regiment of Napoleonic infantry.” With the end of the Cold War a number of weak government began to totter as the funding they had been receiving from the superpowers disappeared. This made them more vulnerable to attacks by rebels. However, the rebels could no longer count on support from superpowers either, and so they turned to crime to generate income. Drug trafficking, kidnapping and protection rackets proliferated, and as they did so, ideological concerns began to disappear and war become “an alternate system of profit and power.” War becomes not a means to an end, but an end itself. “Highly personalized or purely predatory armed groups, such as warlords, which are focused on asset seizure, are particularly dependant on this new doctrine of using children.” Most child soldiers come from the poorest part of the population. About a third of them are abducted by armed bands, the other two-thirds join to avoid starvation, occasionally encouraged by their parents because they are unable to care for them. “A good portion of girl soldiers who join as ‘volunteers’ cite domestic abuse or exploitation.” Many join to revenge the death of family member usually one or both parents. Once enlisted they are then indoctrinated. Their “training typically uses fear, brutality, and psychological manipulation to achieve high levels of obedience.” Abducted recruits are often forced, “to take part in the ritualized killing of others very soon after their abduction. The victims may be POWs for the other side, other children who were abducted for the sole purpose of being killed in front of the recruits, or, most heinous of all, the children’s own neighbors or even parents. The killings are often carried out in a public manner, such that the home community knows that the child has killed, with the intent of closing off any return.” Having broken down the child down physically, and psychologically, he or she is then filled with basic infantry tactics. Some are given more specific duties as spies, or couriers, or suicide bombers. Girls are often assigned to be “wives” of adult officers. Generally all are sent out to attack civilian targets that are poorly defended. Typical orders are to kill everyone in a village and then burn it to the ground. Singer quotes a UNICEF worker who said, “Boys will do things that grown men can’t stomach. Kids make more brutal fighters because they haven’t developed a sense of judgment.” They are also assigned to be shields for their commanders or cannon fodder in what are termed human wave attacks. “The tactic is designed to overpower or wear down a well-fortified opposition through sheer weight of numbers. The very value of children is that they are extra targets for the enemy to deal with and expend ammunition upon.” Singer concludes his book with recommendation on how to prevent children from becoming soldiers and how former child soldiers can be rehabilitated. He also warns that training for American soldiers must include how to fight them. “The hard reality is that our soldiers must be trained and prepared for what to do in the certain eventualities in which they will come face-to-face with child soldiers.”

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sam Bronstein

    A powerful well-written thesis. Written in an easy to read form, leading to a good understanding of a very important topic.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Deborah

    Good overview, though important to remember it was published in 2006 and thus slightly dated regarding CAAFAG programming.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Yesterday I read Children at War, by P.W. Singer, a study of the children who serve as soldiers, spys, and "wives" in conflicts all over the world. Although the book itself is a bit repetitive, the topic is fascinating and horrifying in equal measure. Singer attributes the prevalence of child soliders to three factors. First, the large number of children who are orphaned, literally or figuratively, by poverty and illness (especially AIDS). This creates a pool of vulnerable children who can be abd Yesterday I read Children at War, by P.W. Singer, a study of the children who serve as soldiers, spys, and "wives" in conflicts all over the world. Although the book itself is a bit repetitive, the topic is fascinating and horrifying in equal measure. Singer attributes the prevalence of child soliders to three factors. First, the large number of children who are orphaned, literally or figuratively, by poverty and illness (especially AIDS). This creates a pool of vulnerable children who can be abducted and manipulated without adults interfering on their behalf, at least not effectively. Second, the existence of conflicts in which the "rules of war" are ignored or flouted, creating a pool of adults who are willing to exploit the children. Third, the ready (and, in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse, cheap) supply of deadly weapons that are light and simple enough to be operated by a child. Whereas premodern weapons depended on the brute strength of the operator, "a handful of children can now have the equivalent firepower of an entire regiment of Napoleonic infantry." The larger part of the book is a chilling description of how the child soldiers and recruited and used. Children are abducted from orphanages and schools, or they are taken from their families during raids on villages. The abductors often force the children to commit atrocities, so that they won't be accepted back, and later may scar or brand them to achieve the same purpose. The children are indoctrinated and trained in the use of weapons. In battle, they are often used to clear mines (by blowing them up) or as sheer cannon fodder in attacks on forts and towns. In some cases, they are forcibly drugged to overcome their natural reluctance to proceed under fire. Some want only to escape, but others grow to accept their captors' beliefs. Later, the author describes the effect that the use of child soldiers can have on a conflict. Because they are cheap to recruit and arm, adults can use them to wreak destruction out of proportion with their own numbers or the popularity of their opinions. He suggests that in some failing nations, a figure on the par of David Koresh can terrorize a population for years, raising funds through looting and using them to arm his charges. Children are more easily persuaded to perform illegal acts of war, so conflicts in which child soldiers are involved can be more brutal than traditional warfare. Child soldiers usually have no home to return to, so their involvement tends to prolong wars; when a cease-fire is actually achieved, they might seep into surrounding territories, inflaming conflicts there. Members of professional, Western armies are traumatized by encounters with child regiments, because their natural instinct is not to shoot them. Because so many of the children are simply looking for a chance to escape, Singer advocates targeting their adult leaders, which may cause the children to disperse. Singer addresses an obvious question: is the current use of child soldiers unique in history? He believes it is. While youths of fourteen to eighteen may have been used as musicians or support staff in wars like the American Revolution, and as pages in medieval times, and while the Hitlerjugend was forced into service during the desperate last hours of World War II, the use of younger children, ages ten to fourteen, and the wholesale use of children under eighteen as infantry, seems to be unique to our own time. It's not surprising though, that Singer has no clear prescription for ending the practice, other than to address the underlying causes of war and poverty. The research here is better than the book itself, but the topic makes the writing more or less irrelevant.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    Enjoyed this book as I have for all of Singer's books. (I have read them in reverse order) Children at War explores how mores have been reduced over recent decades as children have become participants in conflicts across the globe. Children at War is not limited to Africa or the Middle East, but occurs in South America, Europe, and Asia. It continues to occur because as Pape would say on suicide bombings...it works. Not only has it worked, but for criminals and warlords who employ children have Enjoyed this book as I have for all of Singer's books. (I have read them in reverse order) Children at War explores how mores have been reduced over recent decades as children have become participants in conflicts across the globe. Children at War is not limited to Africa or the Middle East, but occurs in South America, Europe, and Asia. It continues to occur because as Pape would say on suicide bombings...it works. Not only has it worked, but for criminals and warlords who employ children have found them to be highly effective, cheap, and easily replaceable

  11. 4 out of 5

    SpaceBear

    Singer provides a broad analysis of child soldiers, with key sections on recruitment and indoctrination. Looks at the role of coercion/voluntarism, while siding with the latter. Approach is broad, since it largely covers all children involved in conflict everywhere. Interesting chapter "Fighting Children" on the manner in which Western militaries have engaged child militias in battle, while never preparing to do so (with negative consequences). Singer provides a broad analysis of child soldiers, with key sections on recruitment and indoctrination. Looks at the role of coercion/voluntarism, while siding with the latter. Approach is broad, since it largely covers all children involved in conflict everywhere. Interesting chapter "Fighting Children" on the manner in which Western militaries have engaged child militias in battle, while never preparing to do so (with negative consequences).

  12. 5 out of 5

    Meg - A Bookish Affair

    This book is a fairly quick read but is disturbing and important. Child soldiers are an unfortunate reality in many countries. It's really sad and not something that one would normally want to think about. Early drafts of this book were actually passed out to U.S. soldiers fighting where child soldiers are prevalent so that soldiers would be aware of the situation. This book is a fairly quick read but is disturbing and important. Child soldiers are an unfortunate reality in many countries. It's really sad and not something that one would normally want to think about. Early drafts of this book were actually passed out to U.S. soldiers fighting where child soldiers are prevalent so that soldiers would be aware of the situation.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Will

    Absolutely brilliant book - good info on one of the true horrors of the world. Unfortunately, the author included a chapter on terrorism, which he appears to know next-to-nothing about. Other than that, very very very good and disturbing.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Greg Hensley

    This book is great about teaching younger students and even adults about what these kids go threw and how they live being slaves and soldiers. These kids are used in an army and are meant to destroy an kill.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Todoroff

    Detailing the plight of child soldiers in S. America, Asia, Africa, and East Europe, Peter Singer has compiled an exhaustive amount of data and laid it out in a systematic, comprehensive manner. Even wading through the dry statistics, this is one of the saddest books I've ever read. Detailing the plight of child soldiers in S. America, Asia, Africa, and East Europe, Peter Singer has compiled an exhaustive amount of data and laid it out in a systematic, comprehensive manner. Even wading through the dry statistics, this is one of the saddest books I've ever read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jared

    A wonky introduction to a serious issue.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Brendan

    Singer's books are just GOOD. ( although War here is a little repetative < poor editing again > ) I tried to warn people that this was going to become a huge problem in the 90s , now it's here. Singer's books are just GOOD. ( although War here is a little repetative < poor editing again > ) I tried to warn people that this was going to become a huge problem in the 90s , now it's here.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jodi

    Got from Nelson County Public Library sale rack.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Susan Shepler

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tyler

  21. 5 out of 5

    Pat H

  22. 5 out of 5

    Caleb Brown

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

  24. 5 out of 5

    Craig Hull

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

  26. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

  27. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

  28. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tess Wiegand

  30. 4 out of 5

    Michael

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