Magazine article Literary Review of Canada

Children as "Weapon Systems": A General Dedicates His Life to Ending the Use of Child Soldiers Worldwide

Magazine article Literary Review of Canada

Children as "Weapon Systems": A General Dedicates His Life to Ending the Use of Child Soldiers Worldwide

Article excerpt

The Global Quest to They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children: Eradicate the Use of Child Soldiers

Romeo Dallaire, with Jessica Dee Humphreys

Random House

307 pages, hardcover

ISBN 9780307355775

April 2011

Imagine. You are a soldier, trained to kill the enemy. On the battlefield, just as you are about to shoot an enemy combatant, you suddenly see in your gun sights that the soldier is a mere child "in the tattered remnants of a military uniform with dozens more children behind." What would you do?

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This is the ethical dilemma that Romeo Dallaire asks his readers to ponder in his latest book, They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children: The Global Quest to Eradicate the Use of Child Soldiers. The retired lieutenant-general and Canadian senator, now a celebrated icon in Canada and around the world for his attempt to protect innocent people from genocidal slaughter in Rwanda, had to wrestle with this very same moral dilemma when he headed the United Nations peacekeeping mission (UNAMIR) in that country in 1994. In the first few pages of this book, Dallaire asks the following heart-wrenching questions: "Do you treat this person aiming his weapon at you as a soldier or a child?" And, "Is a child still a child when pressing the barrel of a gun to your chest?"

Reading Dallaire's new book leaves one with the stark realization that the former general has still not recovered fully from his terrible experience in Rwanda, an experience vividly recorded in his award-winning book, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. In that earlier publication, Dallaire was compelling, riveting and dramatic in his account of the horrific and atrocious events of the Rwandan genocide that left 800,000 people dead over the course of 100 days. The story of the general's frustrated efforts to intervene and protect the vulnerable Tutsi population was turned into a successful docudrama in 2007. We are given a taste of the impact that the failed UNAMIR mission had on Dallaire when he writes the following in his new book: "the smells, the sights, the terrible sounds of the dying in Rwanda have been damped down in my psyche to a dull roar through constant therapy and an unrelenting regimen of medication."

In They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children, it is almost as if Dallaire is still engaged in the self-flagellation of his immediate post-Rwanda experience. But this time, the reader will find that Dallaire has resolved to devote the rest of his life to ending a scourge he witnessed first hand in Rwanda but that is present in many parts of the developing world. This is not a book about Rwanda per se; it is about child soldiers, of whom there are approximately 250,000 in the world, some as young as seven. The book consists of an introduction and ten chapters, with a foreword written by Ishmael Beah--a former child soldier and author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. In the introduction, Dallaire recounts the international community's attempts to protect children living in war-torn countries: the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child; Graqa Machel's pivotal report, "Impact of Armed Conflict on Children," which was presented to the UN General Assembly in 1996; the appointment of Olara Otunnu (although Dallaire does not mention him by name) as the UN secretary-general's first Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict; and the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. …

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