Tools of War, Tools of State. When Children Become Soldiers

By Faulkner, Christopher M. | African Studies Quarterly, May 2019 | Go to article overview

Tools of War, Tools of State. When Children Become Soldiers


Faulkner, Christopher M., African Studies Quarterly


Robert Tynes. 2018. Tools of War, Tools of State. When Children Become Soldiers. NY: SUNY Press. 266 pp.

Despite the growing international consensus that children should be excluded as participants in war, many actors continue to use child soldiers. Motivated by this paradox, Robert Tynes explores why governments and non-state armed groups elect to employ children during times of conflict. Tools of War, Tools of State examines the harsh realities that many children face in wartime and depicts the choice to recruit and use child soldiers as both a rational and strategic decision. Using macro and micro-level analyses, Tynes explores the intricacies of decision making when it comes to child recruitment and convincingly argues that rebels and governments alike employ children as a tool to gain a battlefield advantage (p. 187). His analysis highlights the grim, but important reality, that child soldiering remains a legitimate issue with lasting impacts on society, security, and children.

The book begins with a succinct account of why children are used in times of war, dispelling myths often associated as determinants of child solider use such as poverty and that the issue is geographically concentrated in Africa. Tynes' analysis, while highlighting cases of child soldier use in Africa, demonstrates that child soldiers are used across the globe. His assessment of supposed determinants of child soldiering is complemented with detailed analyses of youth empowerment and militarization across states over time. As examples, he discusses the Boy Scouts in Britain and the US, the Gioventu Italiana del Littoria in Italy, Hitler's youth in Germany and numerous youth groups in China. In doing so, the book alludes to how a moral boundary against using children in conflict can so readily be crossed (p. 27).

The book progresses with Tynes identifying the often-blurred line of respect for civilian life during times of war (p. 64), a foundational component of his answer to the puzzle of child soldiering. Its theoretical contribution argues that child soldiering, particularly in modern conflict, is a tactical innovation (p. 7). Although child soldiers are not new, their inclusion in conflict is a strategy that has been adopted by rebel groups over time through shared ties and networks which allowed for organizational learning. In similar fashion to the diffusion of strategies adopted by transnational terrorist groups, Tynes suggests that the transmission of the "child soldier tactic" evolved through parallel channels (pp. 84-86). Pointing to Mao's protracted war theory as a focal point, he argues the diffusion of a child soldier tactic initiated with the Viet Minh, evolved with tactics employed by the North Korean People' s Army, and was refined and mastered by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam war. …

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