photo credit: Kay_Dub

In some distant countries mostly ignored by the American media machine, children are forced to enter bloody, drawn-out wars. Kidnapped by night and at times forced to murder their family members and peers, these children become desensitized casualties of war ignored by those who claim to support the overthrow of dictators and support of democracy around the world.

According to Human Rights Watch, an estimated 2-300,000 children are currently fighting in military conflicts around the world. They are brought into a world where murder, rape, plunder, and torture are the status quo. The events to which these children are subjected scar them permanently and have a deep impact upon the rest of their lives—if they are lucky enough to survive the war in which they are fighting or flee to safety.

The following poem, written by a girl who was forced to become a child soldier in Northern Uganda, illustrates the soul-scarring despair to which child soldiers are subjected:

The Child Soldier
By Betty Ejang

The load on my head,
The rashes on my skin,
The soreness on my feet,
The pangs of hunger inside,
The despair of being alone.

Around me is a river of blood
A mess of flesh,
The dying groans of fellow children
That my hands have hacked,
The unshakable deep seated guilt inside me,
Life is but an everlasting nightmare.
I have no future to look forward to.
The soldiers regard me as a spy.
The rebels as a betrayer.
My hope: this line between life and death,
My ambition is but a moment’s fantasy.

I have deprived the beasts of their residence,
Saved and destroyed their food.
Yet I’m more or less one of them.
With no shoulder to cry on,
And no laughter to share.
Pain at sunrise, regrets at sunset,
Dawn or dusk, Life is not fair.

Striking words, are they not? Yet the dark, emotive pangs of guilt create a disconnect between the author and the reader. We simply cannot fathom the experiences Betty—and hundreds of thousands like her—has been through. For us, such scenes of gore and violence exist only as a fictional fantasy on the silver screen.

But we in America are not entirely disconnected from war. Living in a war culture of our own, it is common to hear people repeat certain pro-war talking points to declare their support for fighting bad guys throughout the world. Some examples:

  • We should use our military to defend people around the world from dictators.
  • We should impose blockades and tariffs on countries who have poor records of civil rights.
  • We should dismantle foreign governments that are corrupt and oppress the people.

Despite hearing such absurdities over and over again, you will rarely come across an individual who thinks these statements should be applied to every country that may meet the criteria. Instead, these platitudes are used to support the wars which our current government has chosen—for whatever (obvious) reasons—to start. The complicit media regurgitates the talking points on the evening news, which then become the very arguments used by the masses to claim moral justification for the government’s military engagement.

But if we’re in Afghanistan and Iraq—and if we’ve been in numerous other countries—under such pretenses, why do we fail to come to the aid of those suffering in Uganda, Sudan, DRC Congo, Burma, Nepal, and elsewhere? In light of the perhaps greater need for military invention in many countries around the world, those who parrot these talking points show themselves to be hypocritical at the very least, and nefariously disingenuous at the very worst.

Children should never be soldiers. They, more than any others, should be spared the consequences of military conflict and catastrophe caused by their parents’ generation. But the harsh reality is that a host of them currently wake up each morning a little less sane, a little more empty inside. They suppress any form of emotion that may seek to well to the surface, and bottle up any thoughts of resistance or freedom. Each day hardens them further, deepening the scars that will follow them throughout the rest of their mortal lives.

Suddenly those talking points become utterly meaningless. America currently fights not to free an oppressed people, but to serve an elitist agenda that couldn’t care less about Betty Ejang or any other child inducted into war. Thus, the responsibility ultimately (and properly) falls upon us as individuals to act, to effect change, and to spread the word.

With no shoulder to cry on,
And no laughter to share.
Pain at sunrise, regrets at sunset,
Dawn or dusk, Life is not fair.

What would you say to Betty? Certainly not that her plight is not as deserving of our attention and aid than individuals in other parts of the world. Yet that is exactly what America’s neglect of her situation conveys to the hundreds of thousands of child soldiers hoping deep down inside for liberation.

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