The Innocent Enemy: Children at War and the Boundaries of Combatancy
In this paper, I will look at these
questions in the context of the principle of discrimination, one of the two
components of the jus in
Once a nation has engaged in the difficult task of justifying the resort to war, one of its central tasks is the identification of targets. Nations that adhere to the principle of discrimination seek to distinguish between types of individuals who may be subject to such targeting. Typically, citizens of an enemy nation are seen as falling into one of two categories: combatant or noncombatant. According to the rules of war, those who do not participate actively in the war effort, the noncombatants, are to be protected from direct intentional attack on their persons or property.
The basic outlines of the principle are relatively simple. Yet even the identification of combatants and noncombatants as the two types of individuals one should discriminate between is worthy of debate. While one may readily support this sort of discrimination for those soldiers who are enthusiastic proponents of the war they fight, we may ask whether it is fair to create a class of individuals who are subject to direct attack simply because they have been forced into enlisting in the armed services. Should any attention be given to the voluntariness of the combatant’s assumption of his role? Or, more broadly, should the intention and moral capacity of the combatant be taken into consideration in the context of the principle of discrimination?
Historically, by and large, the answer to these questions has been negative. Most analysts agree that it is the role filled by the soldier, as well as what he actually does, that makes him an appropriate target of publicly-sanctioned violence. However, I believe that a discussion of a case at the boundary of the combatant/noncombatant distinction – the case of the child soldier – may force a reevaluation of this answer. I will argue that there are good reasons to treat child soldiers differently than adult soldiers: their moral immaturity leads to a lack of genuine decision-making capacity; battle is likely to harm them more than their adult counterparts; and children should generally be protected from harm more vigorously than adults. We should also consider how we – both soldiers and those who sanction their actions – would be affected by a treatment that does not discriminate between children and adults. The principle of discrimination, then, may not reduce so readily to the combatant/noncombatant distinction: we may find it appropriate to discriminate in some way between types of combatants as well as between combatants and noncombatants.
The history of the principle of
discrimination in the
FM27-10 states that the law of land warfare is “inspired by the desire to diminish the evils of war by a. Protecting both combatants and noncombatants from unnecessary suffering; b. Safeguarding certain fundamental human rights of persons who fall into the hands of the enemy...and c. Facilitating the restoration of peace” (I.I.2). With respect to discrimination, FM27-10 says that although all nationals of a state that is at war are to be considered the enemy, “civilians must not be made the object of attack directed exclusively against them” (I.I.25). Civilians also receive extensive protection and aid in the case of an occupation.
AFP110-31’s position on the
principle of discrimination is that “the civilian population as such, as well
as individual civilians, shall not be made the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence which have the
primary object of spreading terror among the civilian population are
prohibited.” The criteria of proportionality and
discrimination are linked in the document, with a notation that civilian immunity
from direct attack does not “preclude unavoidable incidental civilian
casualties which may occur during the course of attacks against military
objectives, and which are not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct
military advantage anticipated” (1-6).
Cook, however, notes that from the beginning, air power has led to the
erosion of the distinction between combatants and noncombatants, in part by
affecting how one determines whether a territory is “defended.” However, the authors of AFP110-31 suggest
that the limitations of previous wars can be overcome, so that discrimination
can be viable during aerial bombardment.
O’Brien states that this will occur because of improvements in bombing
accuracy –something under the control of the
II. Paul Ramsey and the Principle of Discrimination
One of the strongest expositors and defenders of the principle of discrimination in the late twentieth century was the Christian ethicist Paul Ramsey. Ramsey comes out clearly in favor of the just war generally based on the principle of Christian charity; he writes, “it is the work of love and mercy to deliver as many of God’s children from tyranny, and to protect from oppression, if one can, as many of those for whom Christ died as it may be possible to save.” Although his writings, which look at discrimination in the context of the Cold War and the Vietnam War, are somewhat dated, Ramsey’s detailed analysis of noncombatant immunity is nuanced by his clear understanding of the theory and practice of war in general, and is thus very helpful in examining contemporary applications of the principle. I will look at two issues relevant to the child soldiers case here: the issue of innocence or guilt in relation to combatants and noncombatants; and the immorality of insurgency warfare.
Ramsey argues that abstract notions of innocence or guilt are unrelated to the status of combatancy or noncombatancy. The critical distinction should be between “’close’ and ‘remote’ cooperation in the force that should be repelled”; one’s innocence or guilt is “reducible to degrees of actual participation in hostile force.” For this reason, he criticizes a church commission report that notes that “men who are drafted into uniform may be among the least guilty.” Ramsey states, “Who ever declared combatants (or the ‘guilty’) to be legitimate objects of direct attack or counter-attack simply because, unlike mercenaries in the past or men drafted today into ‘democratic’ armies, they are more personally guilty than the rest of their countrymen?” What a soldier possesses is “objective or functional guilt because of status in the forces that should be repelled”; we are permitted to kill a soldier “because of the place where the bearer of the hostile force [stands] in relation to God’s other children.” The innocence of noncombatants lies in their “remoteness” to the pursuit of the war.
Ramsey also discusses “insurgency warfare,”
which he defines as a situation in which forces within a country typically
attempt to “strike selectively the civil populations in order to subvert the
country and to gain control of what’s left of the government.” Insofar as this is what these groups are
attempting to do, insurgency warfare is “an inherently immoral plan of war”
regardless of the justice of the cause.
Insurgency forces strive to “subvert a whole country’s traditions and
institutions” through attacks on the civilian population. The insurgents themselves enlarge the target;
counterinsurgent efforts are not to blame for attacking that target, although
efforts at discrimination should still be made.
This sort of assessment is found in current discussions of
Ramsey, then, raises two critical points. First, he argues that our perception that a soldier is “innocent” (in the ordinary sense of the term) should not affect our response to him during the course of war. Second, like the authors of AFP110-31, he states that those who “enlarge the target” to include those who would ordinarily fall into the category of noncombatants bear sole responsibility for any harm that comes to this group of “innocents.”
III. Children and War
The principle of discrimination clearly reflects a desire to protect the innocent from harm. However, as Ramsey notes, separating the innocent from the guilty is not an easy task, and in any case, we may choose not to base discrimination on questions of innocence and guilt: it may be more appropriate to look at the role an individual plays in the context of a war and treat him accordingly. Nowhere is this problem more starkly set forth than in the matter of child soldiers.
In the recent past, the American
public and the American media have displayed concern for individuals in enemy
countries who can be clearly classified as civilians or noncombatants, and in
some cases, Americans may also see enemy combatants as victims in a
conflict. This is most likely to occur
when the U.S. engages non-democratic countries with forced recruitment, where
soldiers have no choice but to fight on behalf of governments they have not
elected, in military engagements they have no way of controlling or ending. The concern is likely to be intensified when
the soldiers who participate are younger than those who serve in the
A number of countries have sought
to prevent children from participating in combat at all; the Convention on the
Rights of the Child prohibits countries from using those under 15, and an
optional protocol proposes raising the age to 18. It is clear, however, that these efforts have
not been successful. Approximately
300,000 children are now engaged in conflicts around the world. More critically for the
It might be suggested that a
soldier is a soldier, and no such reassessment is necessary. But if the
In this section, I will try to determine how we might think about this issue. First, I will give a brief overview of the current situation, in order to provide a sense of the scope of the problem. Second, I will identify several reasons why we may object to a child’s participation in combat. Finally, I will examine a few discussions of the nature of childhood. There are, of course, many accounts of child and adolescent development that might be taken from psychology, sociology, religion, and law. I will limit my discussion to the latter two areas. Within religion I will discuss the views of Augustine and Aquinas. Within law, I will look at contemporary legal age requirements for a variety of activities, in particular, the rules that have been made with respect to voting, drinking, and criminal prosecution, and then will discuss the treatment of children in the Law on Land Warfare and the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol.
Following this general discussion
of children, I will describe Pauline Kaurin’s proposed revision of the
combatant-noncombatant distinction and discuss how it might be applied to the
situation of child soldiers. In the end
I will conclude that the problem of child soldiers, along with other cases of
“ethical asymmetry,” may require carefully-considered sacrifices on the part of
A. The Scope of the Problem
Approximately 300,000 children
under 18 are participating in armed conflicts in 41 countries throughout the
world, and 200,000 more have been recruited.
A total of 87 countries have recruited child soldiers. Most are between
15 and 18, but some are as young as seven. Many wars involving child soldiers are civil
or regional conflicts, and they are most likely to occur in the poorest
countries, particularly in
Encounters with child soldiers
would also be likely should the
The British have already begun to deal with the issue of children in combat. In British operations in Sierra Leone in late 2000, for example, one squad engaged with, and refused to fire on, "children armed with AK-47s," and another attacked and killed a group of enemy forces (part of a rogue militia) that included children, according to Maj. Jim Gray of the British Royal Marines. As a consequence of these situations, military planners have become concerned with how to prepare soldiers for engagements with children. Gray said, "The impact of being fired on by a child is an initial shock, but the soldiers will do their job. But if you don't care for them when they come home, it might destroy them."
B. Why is Child Soldiering an Issue?
Reports such as these may evoke a visceral response that it is imperative to keep children from participating in combat. It is important, however, to identify the reasons behind this response. These may be divided into reasons that are based on protective impulses toward the child as a vulnerable individual; those that are based on the views of a child’s capacity for moral judgment; and those that are principally self-interested. These sets of reasons overlap, and, to further complicate analysis, some may pertain principally to keeping children off the battlefield while others relate to responding to their presence once on it. Still, a delineation of these reasons will be helpful for addressing the questions I have raised.
First, we may believe that children should be protected from harm generally. More specifically, we may acknowledge that the psychological effect of battle is magnified for children, who may be more likely to suffer post-traumatic stress and/or be unable to reintegrate themselves into society. They may become a menace to society as well as to themselves. Just as we have begun to bomb enemy cities with an eye toward their later rebuilding, avoiding damage to infrastructure critical for civilian life, we may need to consider how best to preserve the “human infrastructure” of the societies we fight.
Second, we may base our objection to child soldiers on their capacity for moral judgment. According to this sort of argument, children are not old enough to make decisions regarding the morality of killing. Many societies permit adults to choose conscientious objector status (or simply not to volunteer for the armed services); if a child has not reached the age where he is capable of making such a choice, we should keep him out of the fighting. In addition, we may state that children are not old enough to choose to risk death. This is similar to but distinct from the previous example; one may be willing to die without being willing to kill and vice versa. As was noted above, we may have similar concerns about adults’ involuntary participation in warfare, but these are likely to be magnified in the case of children.
Finally, we may believe that the presence of child soldiers presents a risk to our own soldiers. Some have argued that children are not responsible enough to handle themselves in battle; they may be more reckless or more likely to commit atrocities, for example. In addition, there are concerns regarding psychological effect of fighting children on the adults engaged in battle with them, as Gray suggests. The increased guilt soldiers feel may translate into serious psychological problems over and above those usually suffered by veterans. Soldiers may also develop a callousness toward children that will lead to increased post-war child abuse or other mistreatment of children.
How we evaluate the child soldiers issue will relate to one or more of these reasons. Before considering which of these reasons are most important or relevant, it may be useful to look at our general understanding of childhood, and how these reasons have related to it.
C. What is a Child?
1. Religious Views: Augustine and Aquinas
In considering whether children should be treated differently with respect to their participation in armed conflict, it may be helpful to look at general ideas about the nature of childhood and the progression of stages within it. I will first consider the views of two influential religious thinkers, Augustine and Aquinas, and then move to a discussion of contemporary views.
Definitions of childhood have shifted throughout history, but the features described by early thinkers have persisted in modern analyses. Categorizations of the features and capacities of human beings in particular age groups arose for various reasons – some to determine the age of moral culpability, others to identify the appropriate age for full participation in a religious community. The most common division, which eventually made its way into the English common law on which American law was based, involves three stages: infancy, childhood, and adolescence. At the end of these stages one is considered (more or less) fully mature; however, most significant changes have occurred by the end of the second stage. Frequently each stage is seen as lasting seven years, but this may vary.
For Augustine, the first stage, from birth to the acquisition of language, is infancy. An infant is “non-innocent,” tainted by original sin but not yet capable of sinning. Once a child can understand speech well enough to comprehend a rebuke, he has entered childhood. This capacity for obedience and disobedience leads to increased accountability. However, although a child may do many reprehensible things, he should not be punished as severely as an adult because he does not have true and full knowledge of good and evil. The third stage, marked by the onset of puberty, is adolescence. It is at this phase that one is capable of deliberate malice; Augustine in his Confessions describes the theft of pears which is not a capricious flouting of arbitrary moral rules set by an adult (as it might have been during childhood) but a deliberate disobedience of a real internal moral code. Augustine writes, “I had no wish to enjoy the things I coveted by stealing, but only to enjoy the theft itself and the sin,” (II.4). Martha Ellen Stortz states that Augustine and his friends “disobeyed not a rule arbitrarily set by an adult but a certain bedrock equity in the world of human society.”
The Augustinian position is reflected in writings by Martin Luther and John Calvin, who argued that the onset of a sex drive at the age of 14 prompted aggression, defiance of authority, pride and rebelliousness. Throughout this period, children begin to have increasingly greater accountability for wrongdoing. Although the authors do not explicitly state this, it appears that the 14-21 stage is marked by attempts to adjust to one’s newfound capacity to truly disobey the moral law (God’s law, as it is knowable by human beings). Getting oneself under control during this phase is seen as difficult but required. Augustine, then, might be most concerned with a reason for opposing child soldiers mentioned in the previous section: children may not be responsible enough to handle themselves in battle.
Aquinas divided the three stages based on somewhat different criteria; he is more interested in an individual’s ability to understand situations and make rational choices. Infancy, through age 7, was “when a person neither understands by himself nor is able to learn from another”; childhood, through age 14, when “when a man can learn from another but is incapable by himself of consideration and understanding”; and adolescence, the third seven years, “when a man is both able to learn from another and to consider by himself.” During childhood the “dawning of rational thought” occurs; a child can ask for baptism, and make simple vows. In adolescence, children are treated like adults in ecclesiastical and moral matters. Aquinas, however, gives two reasons why a vow made by a child might not be efficacious: first, if a child has not “reached the required use of reason, so as to be capable of guile, which use boys attain, as a rule, at about the age of fourteen and girls at the age of twelve, this being what is called the age of puberty”; and second, if the child, who is under the authority of his or her father, does not receive approval from him to take the vow. Aquinas’ focus, then, is on one’s rational capacity to make important decisions – with respect to soldiering, the choice to kill or to risk death.
Effects of this line of thought persisted in Catholic ecclesiastical law into the twentieth century. According to one Catholic scholar, although children as young as seven were accountable for their acts, “the 1918 Code of Canon Law made a distinction between minors (under 21) and adults and excused anyone who had not attained the age of puberty from any penal laws” due to their lack of mature judgment. One canon lawyer said that those under 14 "ought to be punished with medicinal-educational penalties rather than with censures or other vindictive penalties.” Here we see the recognition of the need for rehabilitation of children who engage in destructive actions; this hints at the potential long-term psychological effects for such children.
For classical and medieval religious thinkers, then, there is a definite change of state around the age of 14 or 15, but since adolescence continues until the age of at least 21, it is clear that a person is not considered fully mature in every sense until that age. Although these thinkers generally do not discuss (as far as I have found) the relation of these changes of state to the capacity for engaging in battle, several of the characteristics of these early stages pertain to this capacity: the fact that adolescents can really do wrong, and know they are doing wrong, but that they have not yet learned to control themselves; the increased aggressiveness and rebelliousness brought on by the start of a sex drive, which is not yet controlled; and the lack of full use of one’s rational capacity. Both the reason and the will are affected: it is difficult to make rational choices because one’s reason is not fully developed, but there is also a sort of moral turbulence, a vertigo that accompanies the new capacity for genuine wrongdoing. Identifying the status of individuals in this stage, then – whether they are more like children, or more like adults – has always been difficult.
2. Legal Age Requirements in Contemporary Society
It is clear that there is no consensus with respect to the age at which individuals reach maturity. Of course, it might be argued that different qualities are necessary for engaging in these different activities. For example, in 1954, one Congressional opponent of lowering the voting age to 18 said, “The thing called for in a soldier is uncritical obedience, and that is not what you want in a voter.... Eighteen to twenty-one are mainly formative years where the youth is racing forward to maturity....These are the years of the greatest uncertainties, a fertile ground for the demagogues.” But more often, the reasoning behind the establishment of a particular age is unarticulated. We seem more inclined to give children responsibilities than rights; a child of 14 is assessed as responsible enough for his actions to be sentenced to death, but not responsible enough to be given a driver’s license or vote; and the discrepancy between the drinking age and various other rights and responsibilities has been noted repeatedly.
evaluating these age limits, it is important to note that children in the
nebulous pre-adolescent and adolescent period are not necessarily incapable of
entering into serious commitments and adhering to them. Some certainly are; others, it seems, might
have this capacity “under fire,” if circumstances required it. Young men and women who have an unplanned
child may quickly “grow up,” take responsibility for it, and become fine,
committed parents; soldiers on the battlefield may learn to make and keep
commitments to their comrades. Certainly
this is the assumption of most military planners; training can make a boy into
a man. So, the military assumes, it is
not that an 18-year-old will arrive at basic training with the maturity
required to be a soldier; rather, the service can make a soldier out of any (or
almost any) 18-year-old. And this may be
the assumption of other militaries that have found this to be true of 12- or
15-year-olds. Obviously, however, there
is another element to the maturity required of those in the service. Soldiers must not merely be responsible in a
general sense to those in their unit or squad; they must specifically be
willing to kill and die for them, or on behalf of their country. So soldiers
must be in a position to evaluate the morality of direct killing. They must have determined that it is
appropriate for a state to make war under certain circumstances; they must
trust the process their own state uses to make such a decision; and they must
decide that they would be willing to kill in the course of such a war. Clearly, many
3. Children in the Law of Land Warfare
At this point, there appears to be
The Law of Land Warfare appears to accept the “no combatants under 15,” doctrine, although this is not made explicit. In FM27-10, it appears that children under fifteen are assumed to be civilians or noncombatants. In Chapter 5, Treatment of Civilian Persons, provision is made for establishing “hospital and safety zones...to protect from the effects of war, wounded, sick and aged persons, children under fifteen, expectant-mothers and mothers of children under seven” (section II, 253). Special protection for children under 15 is mentioned again in paragraphs 263, 277 and 296. The grouping of children under fifteen, expectant mothers, and mothers of children under 7 is also found in Chapter 2, which acknowledges that “civilians must not be made the object of attack directed exclusively against them” (II.I.25). In conjunction with this, warnings before bombardments should be given when possible “so that the noncombatants, especially the women and children, may be removed before the bombardment commences” (43.c.). (No age is specified for the children in this section, however.)
In FM27-10, no special treatment is
recommended for children between the ages of 15 and 18, so it may be assumed
that these individuals are treated in the same way as older adults with respect
to an evaluation of their combatant or noncombatant status. In this way – although of course this is not
explicit – the
4. The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol
In the international community, concerns about child soldiers have led to efforts to keep children out of the military before any conflict starts. The 1989 International Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) establishes 15 as the age at which children may be permitted to serve in a country’s armed forces, either as a result of conscription, or as volunteers. Ratified by all U.N. member states except the United States and Somalia, the CRC, which entered into force in 1990, states in Article 38, “States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities,” and “shall refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the age of fifteen years into their armed forces.”
However, in keeping with the general standards of the treaty, which defines a child as “every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier,” (I.1) the CRC attempts to treat 15-17-year olds as a distinct class within the context of military service and recruitment. With respect to persons between the ages of 15 and 18, states are also instructed to give priority to the oldest in their recruitment process.
In addition, the CRC states that the parties “shall take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict.” Finally, it notes, in Article 39, that states “shall take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of [among other things]...armed conflict.”
The Optional Protocol to the CRC, which entered into force in February 2002, raises the age for compulsory recruitment to 18, and says that parties “shall take all feasible measures to ensure that members of their armed forces who have not attained the age of 18 years do not take a direct part in hostilities” (Art. 1). They are also to raise the minimum age for volunteers. Those states that do permit those under 18 to volunteer for service agree to maintain safeguards to ensure that recruitment is voluntary, that parental consent has been obtained, that adequate information about the nature of service is provided, and that proof of age is given (3.3). Armed groups “distinct from the armed forces of the state” are also instructed not to “recruit or use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years” (4.1). Once again, states agree that those children who are recruited or used in hostilities shall be accorded “all appropriate assistance for their physical and psychological recovery, and their social reintegration” (6.3).
The CRC and the Optional Protocol are clearly well-intentioned efforts to keep children under 15, or possibly under 18, out of wars, focusing in particular on the need to protect children from harm generally and the desire to prevent long-term psychological effects. They do not, however, suggest what to do when convention has been ignored, when one confronts child soldiers on the battlefield. In order to address this question, it will be necessary to look at a contemporary discussion of the nature of noncombatancy.
IV. The Combatant/Noncombatant Distinction
A. The Future of the Principle of Discrimination
In “Innocence Lost: The Future of the Combatant/Non-combatant Distinction,” Pauline Kaurin writes that there are conflicts within international law and military practice regarding the identification and treatment of noncombatants due to the occasionally “combatant-like” behaviors of these individuals. As conflicts with non-traditional forces become the norm, it is increasingly important to determine who on the new battlefield will be treated as a combatant and who will be afforded some measure of protection. Kaurin notes that despite the difficulty of assigning “innocence” and “guilt” to individuals, especially in the heat of combat, we are inclined to support the idea of doing this at least to some extent, in order to protect those who are not responsible for the conflict. After an evaluation of the evolution of the combatant/non-combatant distinction throughout Christian and philosophical history, she suggests that while previously the distinction was based on an understanding of the party’s innocence or guilt, we should now base it on “the relative power of the parties to inflict harm, and therefore, the extent to which they might be considered a threat.”
Kaurin proposes a “sliding scale of power and threat” which “will allow us to maintain the spirit of the combatant/non-combatant distinction, but also acknowledge the challenges and realities of contemporary warfare.” The highest level of power and threat is that of uniformed combat personnel; the second level is an armed individual who is not in a standard uniform; the third is a “hostile” who is not in uniform and is not openly carrying a weapon (although they may or may not have one). The fourth category is “neutral,” and applies to those who have not announced “friendly intentions” but otherwise seem to present no threat. The fifth level is the vulnerable individual, which Kaurin takes to include “most children, women, the old, prisoners, and the infirm or injured.”
Kaurin’s argument raises many critical questions for the future of the principle of discrimination, and deserves to be pursued much further than I will be able to do in this essay. So my remarks here are only a starting point.
I believe that Kaurin has correctly identified one of the aspects of noncombatancy that must be examined when formulating military policy. However, I believe that it is wrong to completely eliminate the innocence/guilt criterion for noncombatancy, even on the battlefield, where it is most difficult to assess. (Similarly, I would reject Ramsey’s argument against the innocence/guilt distinction.) Those who Americans would clearly identify as “the innocent” – especially children – do participate in conflicts, and I will argue that not only the level of threat they display but also their status as children should affect how they are treated. As is clear from the above arguments, we are not simply concerned with the need to protect children in a general sense; we are also concerned with their precarious intellectual and emotional state, and of the effect on us if we treat them as adults. There is no doubt that an injunction to treat child soldiers differently will make the task of American soldiers more difficult. It will probably endanger their lives. Nevertheless, a sliding scale approach like Kaurin’s should, I believe, be applied to children on the battlefield.
I believe that it is appropriate
from a moral and psychological point of view to consider some parties on the
battlefield as innocent, no matter how dangerous or harmful their actions may
B. Discrimination and Ethical Asymmetry
The child soldiering problem is
part of a larger problem faced by American and other forces engaged in
so-called “asymmetrical” conflicts.
Here I am concerned with what I will term “ethical asymmetry,” the problem
faced by American forces who attempt to hold themselves to what they see as a
higher standard. This is a growing issue for the
In this case, I believe that what
is needed is an approach that combines the humanitarian concerns of the CRC
with the military concerns of those who have been or are likely to become
engaged in combat with young soldiers. This is not a straightforward ethical
problem (e.g., “No one under 18 should be harmed regardless of their actions or
the circumstances”), nor is it a straightforward military problem (e.g.,
“Anyone who presents himself, or appears to present himself, as a soldier
should be treated as such.”) The
approach must deal with the contradictions and ambiguities of construing an
innocent as an enemy, or an enemy as an innocent. It must also anticipate that such a policy
could backfire in a terrible way; countries such as
Some may say that the only thing to
do is to defeat the enemy and make changes afterward. But this requires confidence in a relatively
quick defeat – something that enemies of the
I anticipate that it will be
extraordinarily difficult to develop an appropriate policy on child
soldiers. Peter Singer has suggested a
number of tactical solutions, such as firing for shock, targeting adults leaders
of child soldier units, using psychological operations to encourage desertions,
and employing non-lethal weapons. I do not have the knowledge needed to evaluate
the viability of these tactics. What I
do want to insist is that such solutions must be pursued aggressively, not
simply because they are effective military strategies, but also because they
are needed to protect children who should not have been made soldiers. Soldiers such as those in the British squad
who held their fire when faced with armed children should not be encouraged to
rethink their instincts. The protection
of American values in
 See, e.g., Reginald C. Stuart, War and American Thought (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1982), and James Childress, “Francis Lieber’s Interpretation of the Laws of War,” Moral Responsibility in Conflicts (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1982), 95-164.
 Cook, 199.
 O’Brien, 53.
 Paul Ramsey, The Just War: Force and Political Responsibility (Lanham, CO: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1983/2002), 143.
 Ramsey, 153.
Christian Conscience and Weapons of Mass Destruction,” The Dun Report of a
Special Commission appointed by the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ
 Ramsey, 159.
 Ramsey, 159.
 Ramsey, 433.
 Davida Kellogg, "Guerilla Warfare: When Taking Care of Your Own Troops Leads to War Crimes." Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics (XIX), 30-31 January 1997.
e.g., Stacy R. Obenhaus, “The Highway to
 The minimum recruitment age is 17, assuming
parental consent is given. This has
given rise to criticism of the
A terminological issue might be raised in connection with this view: should the term “child soldier” refer to all soldiers under 18? While it clearly applies to an 11-year-old, a boy of 17 might be more appropriately termed an “adolescent soldier,” for example. Whether or not it is appropriate to refer to all individuals under the age of 18 as “children” is a debatable point, and the terminology is clearly freighted. However, I will follow standard terminology and refer to soldiers in that age range as “child soldiers.”
 As was
established in the Lieber Code, all citizens of an enemy of the
 Joy Gordon, “Economic Sanctions, Just War Doctrine, and the "Fearful Spectacle of the Civilian Dead.” Cross Currents 49:3 (Fall/Winter 1999).
 Shannon McManimon and Rachel Stohl, “Use of Children as Soldiers,” Foreign Policy in Focus (October 2001). For additional information on the issue, see: Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities, “Child Soldiers – Implications for U.S. Forces Seminar Report,” September 23, 2002, www.ceto.quantico.usmc.mil/childsoldier/ FINAL%20Report%20Complete.pdf, Retrieved January 19, 2003; and Ilene Cohn and Guy S. Goodwin-Gill, Child Soldiers: The Role of Children in Armed Conflicts (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997).
 Neil G. Boothby and Christine M. Knudsen, “Children of the Gun.” Scientific American 282:6 (June 2000): 60-66.
 Both Brig. Gen. William
Catto, who commands the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory at
 See, e.g., Tyson.
McManimon, “Child Soldiers in
Beech Farkhar, “The Child Soldiers.” Time Magazine,
Singer, “Facing Saddam’s Child Soldiers.”
 Tyson; Human Rights
See also Grey’s presentation in Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities,
“Child Soldiers – Implications for
 See, e.g., Neil G. Boothby and Christine M. Knudsen, “Children of the Gun,” Scientific American 282:6 (June 2000): 60-66; and Mike Wessels, “Child Soldiers,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 53:6 (Nov/Dec 1997): 32-40.
 See, e.g., Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1996).
 Wendell W. Cultice, Youth’s Battle for the Ballot: A History of Voting Age in America (Greenwood Press: New York, 1992), 2.
 Martha Ellen Stortz,
“’Where or When Was Your Servant Innocent?’:
Augustine on Childhood,” In Marcia Bunge, ed. The Child in Christian Thought. (
 Stortz, 85.
 Jane E. Strohl, “The Child
in Luther’s Theology: ‘For what purpose Do We Older Folks Exist, Other Than to
Care for ...the Young?’”; Barbara
Pitkin, “’The Heritage of the Lord’: Children in the Theology of John Calvin.”
Both in Marcia Bunge, ed. The Child
in Christian Thought. (
 Cristina Traina, “A Person in the Making: Thomas Aquinas on
Children and Childhood.” In Marcia
Bunge, ed. The Child in Christian Thought.
 Traina, p. 119.
Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Trans. Fathers of the
 Patrick T. McCormick, “Fit
to be Tried?”
 Psychologists such as Lawrence Kohlberg have sought to evaluate the validity of moral stages for young adults in a variety of cultures. While it would be fruitful to examine this large body of literature in making a determination about the nature of morality in childhood, this is beyond the scope of this paper. For two contemporary treatments of these issues, see Nancy Eisenberg and Paul H. Mussen, The Roots of Prosocial Behavior in Children (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); and Martin Hoffman, Empathy and Moral Development: Implications for Caring and Justice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
 McCormick, “Fit to be
Tried?”; Amanda Ripley and David S. Jackson, “Throwing the Book at Kids,” Time
 Suzanne D. Strater, “The juvenile death penalty: In the best
interests of the child?” Human Rights: Journal of the Section of
Individual Rights & Responsibilities 22:2 (Spring 1995): 10ff. Strater mentions an Amnesty International
statement that "the
 The National Minimum
Drinking Age Law was enacted in 1984, after a series of attempts to raise the
drinking age in a number of states. The
National Commission Against Drunk Driving estimates that minimum drinking age laws
have saved more than 18,000 lives between 1975 and 1998, and notes that while
non-alcohol-related traffic fatalities increased for both youth (age not
specified) and adults between 1982 and 1998, alcohol-related traffic fatalities
decreased by 59% for youth (age not specified) and 30% for adults. (National
Commission Against Drunk Driving web site, http://www.ncadd.com/charts/.,
 Youth’s Battle for the Ballot, p. 46.
 Boothby and Knudsen note, “The Clinton administration signed it in 1995, but conservative senators have held up ratification for reasons unrelated to child soldiers.” The Optional Protocol notes that the Statute of the International Criminal Court, identifies “conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years or using them to participate actively in hostilities as a war crime in both international and non-international armed conflicts” as a war crime (Introduction).
 The punishment of child perpetrators of crimes is also addressed by the protocol, which states that “neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age” (37(a)). This is consistent with the position that no one under the age of 18 should have to face death as a soldier, perhaps – although the CRC does not say this – even if he is a willing participant in the conflict.
 Pauline Kaurin, “Innocence
Lost: The Future of the Combatant/Noncombatant Distinction,” Joint Services
Conference on Professional Ethics,
 As discussed above, Ramsey would not agree with Kaurin’s assessment of the historical treatment of the distinction.
 For discussions of asymmetry, see Timothy L. Thomas, “Deciphering Asymmetry’s Word Game, Military Review (July-August 2001); Steven Metz and Douglas V. Johnson II, Asymmetry and US Military Strategy: Definition, Background, and Strategic Concepts, (Carlisle PA: US Army Strategic Studies Institute, January 2001).
 Of course, the enemy may not view the American standard as a higher one. First and foremost, it may take ad bellum considerations as paramount, believing that any act is justified if it leads to victory; it may also believe, for example, that it is appropriate for children to participate in combat. While I do not condone adherence to such alternative standards – the argument I make assumes the capacity to make some universal moral judgments – it is important to recognize that these standards do exist.
“Fighting Saddam’s Child Soldiers.” See
also Singer’s “Caution: Children at War,” Parameters (Winter 2001-2002),
which appears in the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities’ “Child
Soldiers – Implications for