Synopses & Reviews
When we hear the term “child soldiers,” most Americans imagine innocent victims roped into bloody conflicts in distant war-torn lands like Sudan and Sierra Leone. Yet our own history is filled with examples of children involved in warfare—from adolescent prisoner of war Andrew Jackson to Civil War drummer boys—who were once viewed as symbols of national pride rather than signs of human degradation.
In this daring new study, anthropologist David M. Rosen investigates why our cultural perception of the child soldier has changed so radically over the past two centuries. Child Soldiers in the Western Imagination reveals how Western conceptions of childhood as a uniquely vulnerable and innocent state are a relatively recent invention. Furthermore, Rosen offers an illuminating history of how human rights organizations drew upon these sentiments to create the very term “child soldier,” which they presented as the embodiment of war’s human cost.
Filled with shocking historical accounts and facts—and revealing the reasons why one cannot spell “infantry” without “infant”—Child Soldiers in the Western Imagination seeks to shake us out of our pervasive historical amnesia. It challenges us to stop looking at child soldiers through a biased set of idealized assumptions about childhood, so that we can better address the realities of adolescents and pre-adolescents in combat. Presenting informative facts while examining fictional representations of the child soldier in popular culture, this book is both eye-opening and thought-provoking.
"In this masterly volume Rosen brings meticulous scholarship to bear in a powerful narrative challenging advocates who mythologize the innocence of child combatants across the developing world today."
Children have served as soldiers throughout history. They fought in the American Revolution, the Civil War, and in both world wars. They served as uniformed soldiers, camouflaged insurgents, and even suicide bombers. Indeed, the first U.S. soldier to be killed by hostile fire in the Afghanistan war was shot in ambush by a fourteen-year-old boy.
Does this mean that child soldiers are aggressors? Or are they victims? It is a difficult question with no obvious answer, yet in recent years the acceptable answer among humanitarian organizations and contemporary scholars has been resoundingly the latter. These children are most often seen as especially hideous examples of adult criminal exploitation.
In this provocative book, David M. Rosen argues that this response vastly oversimplifies the child soldier problem. Drawing on three dramatic examples-from Sierra Leone, Palestine, and Eastern Europe during the Holocaust-Rosen vividly illustrates this controversial view. In each case, he shows that children are not always passive victims, but often make the rational decision that not fighting is worse than fighting.
With a critical eye to international law, Armies of the Young urges readers to reconsider the situation of child combatants in light of circumstance and history before adopting uninformed child protectionist views. In the process, Rosen paints a memorable and unsettling picture of the role of children in international conflicts.
In this daring new study, anthropologist David M. Rosen investigates how our perceptions of the child soldier have changed radically over the past two centuries. Examining everything from Andrew Jackson’s time as an adolescent prisoner of war to the shared etymology of the words “infantry” and “infant,” Child Soldiers in the Western Imagination
offers a cure for our widespread historical amnesia.
About the Author
DAVID M. ROSEN is a professor of anthropology and law at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey. He is the author of Armies of the Young: Child Soldiers in War and Terrorism (Rutgers University Press) and Child Soldiers: A Reference Handbook.