Armies of the Young: Child Soldiers in War and Terrorism

Armies of the Young: Child Soldiers in War and Terrorism

Armies of the Young: Child Soldiers in War and Terrorism

Armies of the Young: Child Soldiers in War and Terrorism


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.


This book began with a quiet walk through the British Military Cemetery on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. As I strolled among the well-ordered, manicured graves of the young soldiers who perished in Palestine during the Great War, I had a sense of the anguish, loss, and pain in these soldiers’ families, feelings that have now been almost completely erased by time. The cemetery no longer radiates the raw sense of loss one feels in other military burial and memorial sites, where freshly offered tokens of remembrance bespeak the suffering of family and friends. But this walk among the graves of the fallen instilled in me an understanding that children and youth have long been consumed in the fires of war.

Many of the ideas in this book were first developed during my participation in the seminar “Supernationalism: The Ethics of Global Governance,” directed by the Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs and sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities during the summer of 2001. I thank Joel Rosenthal, the president of Carnegie Council, and Tony Lang, its program officer, who made it possible for me meet a wide variety of people involved in efforts to end the use of child soldiers. My ideas were further elaborated at the monthly seminar “Rethinking Childhood in the Twenty-First Century,” sponsored by the Rutgers University Center for Children and Childhood Studies in 2002–2003. I thank my lifelong friend and colleague Myra Bluebond-Langner, the director of the center, for inviting me to participate in the seminar and for her unflagging interest in and support of this work. I also received a summer grant and release time from some of my teaching duties at Becton College of Fairleigh Dickinson University. I thank Dean Barbara Salmore for her continued support of this research.

I could not have written this book without the help and support of many people. Yossi Shavit, chief archivist at Ghetto Fighters’ House (GFH) at . . .

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