Boy Soldiers

Boy Soldiers

The British Army only had 750,000 men in August 1914. The war minister, Field-Marshall Lord Kitchener, decided Britain would need another 500,000 men to help defeat Germany. A combination of well-designed posters and passionate recruitment speeches encouraged thousands of men men to join the armed forces.

By the end of August over 300,000 men had answered the call at army recruitment centres. Many of those who had signed up were younger than the official minimum age of nineteen. The recruitment campaign was meant to encourage adults to sign up for the armed forces. Unfortunately, some younger citizens saw the posters and thought that it would be fun to be in the army. Others saw the army as an opportunity to travel or to get away from strict parents.

George Coppard has admitted: "Although I seldom saw a newspaper, I knew about the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo. News placards screamed out at every street corner, and military bands blared out their martial music in the main streets of Croydon. This was too much for me to resist, and as if drawn by a magnate, I knew I had to enlist straight away."

James Lovegrove was only sixteen but he came under pressure from members of the Order of the White Feather to join the armed forces: "On my way to work one morning a group of women surrounded me. They started shouting and yelling at me, calling me all sorts of names for not being a soldier! Do you know what they did? They struck a white feather in my coat, meaning I was a coward. Oh, I did feel dreadful, so ashamed." Although he was under-age he decided to join the British Army.

Hundreds of boys falsified birth dates to meet the minimum age requirements. Desperate for soldiers, recruiting officers did not always check the boy's details very carefully. A sixteen year-old later told of how he was able to join the army: "The recruiting sergeant asked me my age and when I told him he said, 'You had better go out, come in again, and tell me different.' I came back, told him I was nineteen and I was in." Private E. Lugg was able to join the 13th Royal Sussex Regiment at the age of thirteen. 1915."

However, he was not the youngest soldier in the British Army, Private Lewis served at the Somme when he was only twelve. George Maher, who was only 13 at the time, claims that Lewis was too short to see over the edge of the trench."The youngest was 12 years old. A little nuggety bloke he was, too. We joked that the other soldiers would have had to have lifted him up to see over the trenches." Maher was eventually arrested: "I was locked up on a train under guard, one of five under-age boys caught serving on the front being sent back to England."

John Cornwell was only sixteen when he won the Victoria Cross for bravery. Cornwall was on board the Chesterwhen it was attacked by four German light cruisers. Within a few minutes the Chester received seventeen hits. Thirty of her crew were killed in the bombardment and another forty-six were seriously wounded. Cornwall remained at his post on one of the ship's guns until the attack was over, but later died of his wounds.

It is claimed that the youngest boy to be killed during the First World War is John Condon of Waterford, who was a member of the Royal Irish Regiment when he was killed aged 14 on the Western Front. Some sources claim that Condon was actually aged 18. However, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, after seeing the relevant documents, still believe that he was 14. In fact, the Waterford News & Star has argued that he was only 13: "The youngest casualty of the First World War had not yet reached his 14th birthday when he was killed on the fields of Flanders in Southern Belgium... John Condon's family only discovered he was in Belgium when they were contacted by the British Army after he went missing in action on the 24th of May 1915."

Victor Silvester, a fourteen year old schoolboy, ran away from Ardingly College in 1914 to join the army. The recruiting officer accepted Victor's claim that he was nineteen and soon after his fifteenth birthday he was fighting on the Western Front. Victor's parents suspected he had joined the army and informed the authorities but it was not until he was wounded in 1917 that he was discovered and brought home.

On the battlefield, however, young soldiers were finding out that it was not as enjoyable as they had thought it would be. Silvester was ordered to be a member of a firing squad that executed five British soldiers for desertion. People who were late in signing up for the army began to hear about the horrors of trench war. Consequently the number of boy soldiers declined and so it was left to adults to face the terror of the battlefield.

The mood of the country was one of almost hysterical patriotism, and no excuses were accepted for any man of military age who was not in uniform. Rude remarks were made about them in the streets. Sometimes they were given white feathers.

I was fourteen and nine months on the morning I played truant, and went up to the headquarters of the London Scottish at Buckingham Palace Gate. A sergeant in the recruiting office asked me what I wanted, and when I told him I had come to join the regiment he questioned me about my Scottish ancestry.

"My mother's father was a Scot," I said.

That seemed adequate, so he asked me my age.

"Eighteen and nine months."

"All right," the sergeant said. "Fill in this form and wait in the next room for the medical officer to look at you."

We went up into the front-line near Arras, through sodden and devastated countryside. As we were moving up to the our sector along the communication trenches, a shell burst ahead of me and one of my platoon dropped. He was the first man I ever saw killed. Both his legs were blown off and the whole of his face and body was peppered with shrapnel. The sight turned my stomach. I was sick and terrified, but even more frightened of showing it.

That night I had been asleep in a dugout about three hours when I woke up feeling something biting my hip. I put my hand down and my fingers closed on a big rat. It had nibbled through my haversack, my tunic and pleated kilt to get at my flesh. With a cry of horror I threw it from me.

Although I seldom saw a newspaper, I knew about the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo. This was too much for me to resist, and as if drawn by a magnate, I knew I had to enlist straight away.

I presented myself to the recruiting sergeant at Mitcham Road Barracks, Croydon. There was a steady stream of men, mostly working types, queuing to enlist. The sergeant asked me my age, and when told, replied, "Clear off son. Come back tomorrow and see if you're nineteen, eh?" So I turned up again the next day and gave my age as nineteen. I attested in a batch of a dozen others and, holding up my right hand, swore to fight for King and Country. The sergeant winked as he gave me the King's shilling, plus one shilling and ninepence ration money for that day.

I spent most of the day in the trenches, checking snipers' reports, sniping myself and watching the German line from behind a heavy iron loophole with a high-powered telescope. My best sniper turned out, when his parents at last traced him, to be only fourteen years old. He was big for his age and had lied about it when he enlisted under a false name, and then had sufficient restraint to write to no one. I noticed that he received no mail and wrote no letters but had never spoken to him about it. He was discharged as under age. He was the finest shot and the best little soldier I had. A very nice boy, always happy. I got him a military medal and when he went back to England and, I suppose to school, he had a credit of six Germans hit.

An N.C.O. came up and said that Private Eliot wished to speak to me. I found him crouched against a chalk-heap almost in tears. He looked younger than ever.

"I don't want to go over" he flung at me in the shamelessness of terror, "I'm only seventeen, I want to go home."

The other men standing round avoided my eye and looked rather sympathetic than disgusted.

"Can't help that now, my lad," said I, "you should have thought of that when you enlisted. Didn't you give your age as nineteen then?"

"Yes, sir. But I'm not, I'm only - well, I'm not quite seventeen really, sir."

"Well, it's too late now," I said, "you'll have to see it through and I'll do what I can for you when we come out." I slapped him on the shoulder. You go with the others. You'll be all right when you get started. This is the worse part of it - the waiting, and we're none of us enjoying it."

We marched to the quarry outside Staples at dawn. The victim was brought out from a shed and led struggling to a chair to which he was then bound and a white handkerchief placed over his heart as our target area. He was said to have fled in the face of the enemy.

Mortified by the sight of the poor wretch tugging at his bonds, twelve of us, on the order raised our rifles unsteadily. Some of the men, unable to face the ordeal, had got themselves drunk overnight. They could not have aimed straight if they tried, and, contrary to popular belief, all twelve rifles were loaded. The condemned man had also been plied with whisky during the night, but I remained sober through fear.

The tears were rolling down my cheeks as he went on attempting to free himself from the ropes attaching him to the chair. I aimed blindly and when the gunsmoke had cleared away we were further horrified to see that, although wounded, the intended victim was still alive. Still blindfolded, he was attempting to make a run for it still strapped to the chair. The blood was running freely from a chest wound. An officer in charge stepped forward to put the finishing touch with a revolver held to the poor man's temple. He had only once cried out and that was when he shouted the one word 'mother'. He could not have been much older than me. We were told later that he had in fact been suffering from shell-shock, a condition not recognised by the army at the time. Later I took part in four more such executions.

On my way to work one morning a group of women surrounded me. Oh, I did feel dreadful, so ashamed.

I went to the recruiting office. The sergeant there couldn't stop laughing at me, saying things like "Looking for your father, sonny?", and "Come back next year when the war's over!" Well, I must have looked so crestfallen that he said "Let's check your measurements again". You see, I was five foot six inches and only about eight and a half stone. This time he made me out to be about six feet tall and twelve stone, at least, that is what he wrote down. All lies of course - but I was in!"

The youngest casualty of the First World War had not yet reached his 14th birthday when he was killed on the fields of Flanders in Southern Belgium.

The story of John Condon, the boy soldier from Waterford City, is the subject of a Nationwide WW1 special on the Eve of Armistice Day, Monday next, Nov. 10th, at 7pm on RTE 1 television. The programme tells the story of how this young Waterford lad trained for military service in the army barracks in Clonmel, after he fooled a British Army recruiting officer into believing he was 18 years of age. John Condon's family only discovered he was in Belgium when they were contacted by the British Army after he went missing in action on the 24th of May 1915.

Condon's father informed the military authorities of his son's real age and the British Military records were amended.

The record of the youngest soldier to die in World War One is now in the record books in London. Ten years would pass before John Condon's body would be discovered by a farmer and his remains finally laid to rest in Poelcapple cemetery near Ypres.

In February of this year - eighty years after John Condon was buried - the nephew and a cousin of the boy soldier became the first blood relatives to come and pay their respects at his graveside. What the family discovered is that the grave of their uncle is the most visited of all the war graves in that country and that their uncle John is hero to the Belgians.

The NATIONWIDE team accompanied John and Sonny Condon on their journey of discovery into a past that they and the Irish people had largely buried, along with the 35,000 other Irishmen who gave up their lives in the war they said would end all wars.

Even today, in Waterford City, John Condon's memory is largely forgotten and recent attempts to erect a monument to his memory were met with opposition from some who still cannot see fit to remember those Irishmen who died wearing a British uniform.

The child, said to be too short to see over the edge of a trench, was recalled by another under-age soldier, George Maher, who was only 13 when he was sent to the Somme during the First Wold War.

Mr Maher had told a recruiting officer that he was 18 to enable him to join the 2nd King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment in 1917. But his true age was revealed when he broke down in tears under shellfire and was hauled before an unsympathetic officer.

Mr Maher, who died aged 96 in 1999, remembered: "I was locked up on a train under guard, one of five under-age boys caught serving on the front being sent back to England.

"The youngest was 12 years old. We joked that the other soldiers would have had to have lifted him up to see over the trenches."

Mr Maher's story, reported in The Sun, has been collected by historian Richard Van Emden for his book: Veterans: The Last Survivors Of The Great War.


The Underage Boy Soldiers of WWI

During WWI, England had an estimated 250,000 underage soldiers fighting for the allies. They corrected the issue in time, but at one point they sent one in five soldiers home after a month because they were either too small to fight or underage.

Boys enlisting for war is as timeless as the first fistfight that broke out at the caveman’s schoolyard. In many ways, teenage boys are better equipped to fight than their more mature counterparts. They have no children from which death can take them, no wives to miss. They haven’t yet experienced how tough the big world can be. Their ignorance of life protects them from the fear they should feel, right up until that first exchange of gunfire.

In the movie Apocalypse Now, Lawrence Fishburne plays the character of an underage soldier in Vietnam. His character is only sixteen, somehow enlisted and on the front lines. As a point of ironic trivia, Fishburne was himself too young for the battle. He lied about his age to get the part, as he was only 14 when production began. It seems boys will even lie to get parts in movies about being soldiers.

This happened not as a matter of need, but complacency on the part of officials, parents, and teachers. The 1916 conscription put a stop to much of this, but it was too late for many boys. The most interesting story among them is the one about Sidney Lewis, the youngest boy to ever enlist at age twelve.


The Boy Who Became a World War II Veteran at 13 Years Old

With powerful engines, extensive firepower and heavy armor, the newly christened battleship USS South Dakota steamed out of Philadelphia in August of 1942 spoiling for a fight. The crew was made up of “green boys”—new recruits who enlisted after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor—who had no qualms about either their destination or the action they were likely to see. Brash and confident, the crew couldn’t get through the Panama Canal fast enough, and their captain, Thomas Gatch, made no secret of the grudge he bore against the Japanese. “No ship more eager to fight ever entered the Pacific,” one naval historian wrote.

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In less than four months, the South Dakota would limp back to port in New York for repairs to extensive damage suffered in some of World War II’s most ferocious battles at sea. The ship would become one of the most decorated warships in U.S. Navy history and acquire a new moniker to reflect the secrets it carried. The Japanese, it turned out, were convinced the vessel had been destroyed at sea, and the Navy was only too happy to keep the mystery alive—stripping the South Dakota of identifying markings and avoiding any mention of it in communications and even sailors’ diaries. When newspapers later reported on the ship’s remarkable accomplishments in the Pacific Theater, they referred to it simply as “Battleship X.”

Calvin Graham, the USS South Dakota‘s 12-year-old gunner, in 1942. Photo: Wikipedia

That the vessel was not resting at the bottom of the Pacific was just one of the secrets Battleship X carried through day after day of hellish war at sea. Aboard was a gunner from Texas who would soon become the nation’s youngest decorated war hero. Calvin Graham, the fresh-faced seaman who had set off for battle from the Philadelphia Navy Yard in the summer of 1942, was only 12 years old.

Graham was just 11 and in the sixth grade in Crockett, Texas, when he hatched his plan to lie about his age and join the Navy. One of seven children living at home with an abusive stepfather, he and an older brother moved into a cheap rooming house, and Calvin supported himself by selling newspapers and delivering telegrams on weekends and after school. Even though he moved out, his mother would occasionally visit—sometimes to simply sign his report cards at the end of a semester.  The country was at war, however, and being around newspapers afforded the boy the opportunity to keep up on events overseas.

“I didn’t like Hitler to start with,” Graham later told a reporter. When he learned that some of his cousins had died in battles, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to fight. “In those days, you could join up at 16 with your parents’ consent, but they preferred 17,” Graham later said. But he had no intention of waiting five more years. He began to shave at age 11, hoping it would somehow make him look older when he met with military recruiters.  Then he lined up with some buddies (who forged his mother’s signature and stole a notary stamp from a local hotel) and waited to enlist.

At 5-foot-2 and just 125 pounds, Graham dressed in an older brother’s clothes and fedora and practiced “talking deep.” What worried him most was not that an enlistment officer would spot the forged signature. It was the dentist who would peer into the mouths of potential recruits. “I knew he’d know how young I was by my teeth,” Graham recalled. He lined up behind a couple of guys he knew who were already 14 or 15, and “when the dentist kept saying I was 12, I said I was 17.”  At last, Graham played his ace, telling the dentist that he knew for a fact that the boys in front of him weren’t 17 yet, and the dentist had let them through. “Finally,” Graham recalled, “he said he didn’t have time to mess with me and he let me go.” Graham maintained that the Navy knew he and the others on line that day were underage, “but we were losing the war then, so they took six of us.”

It wasn’t uncommon for boys to lie about their age in order to serve. Ray Jackson, who joined the Marines at 16 during World War II, founded the group Veterans of Underage Military Service in 1991, and it listed more than 1,200 active members, including 26 women.  “Some of these guys came from large families and there wasn’t enough food to go around, and this was a way out,” Jackson told a reporter. “Others just had family problems and wanted to get away.”

Calvin Graham told his mother he was going to visit relatives. Instead, he dropped out of the seventh grade and shipped off to San Diego for basic training.  There, he said, the drill instructors were aware of the underage recruits and often made them run extra miles and lug heavier packs.

Just months after her christening in 1942, the USS South Dakota was attacked relentlessly in the Pacific. Photo: Wikipedia

By the time the USS South Dakota made it to the Pacific, it had become part of a task force alongside the legendary carrier USS Enterprise (the “Big E”). By early October 1942, the two ships, along with their escorting cruisers and destroyers, raced to the South Pacific to engage in the fierce fighting in the battle for Guadalcanal. After they reached the Santa Cruz Islands on October 26, the Japanese quickly set their sights on the carrier and launched an air attack that easily penetrated the Enterprise’s own air patrol. The carrier USS Hornet was repeatedly torpedoed and sank off Santa Cruz, but the South Dakota managed to protect Enterprise, destroying 26 enemy planes with a barrage from its antiaircraft guns.

Standing on the bridge, Captain Gatch watched as a 500-pound bomb struck the South Dakota’s main gun turret. The explosion injured 50 men, including the skipper, and killed one. The ship’s armor was so thick, many of the crew were unaware they’d been hit.  But word quickly spread that Gatch had been knocked unconscious. Quick-thinking quartermasters managed to save the captain’s life—his jugular vein had been severed, and the ligaments in his arms suffered permanent damage—but some onboard were aghast that he didn’t hit the deck when he saw the bomb coming. “I consider it beneath the dignity of a captain of an American battleship to flop for a Japanese bomb,” Gatch later said.

The ship’s young crew continued to fire at anything in the air, including American bombers that were low on fuel and trying to land on the Enterprise. The South Dakota was quickly getting a reputation for being wild-eyed and quick to shoot, and Navy pilots were warned not to fly anywhere near it. The South Dakota was fully repaired at Pearl Harbor, and Captain Gatch returned to his ship, wearing a sling and bandages. Seaman Graham quietly became a teenager, turning 13 on November 6, just as Japanese naval forces began shelling an American airfield on Guadalcanal Island. Steaming south with the Enterprise, Task Force 64, with the South Dakota and another battleship, the USS Washington, took four American destroyers on a night search for the enemy near Savo Island. There, on November 14, Japanese ships opened fire, sinking or heavily damaging the American destroyers in a four day engagement that became known as the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.

Later that evening the South Dakota encountered eight Japanese destroyers with deadly accurate 16-inch guns, the South Dakota set fire to three of them. “They never knew what sank ‘em,” Gatch would recall. One Japanese ship set its searchlights on the South Dakota, and the ship took 42 enemy hits, temporarily losing power. Graham was manning his gun when shrapnel tore through his jaw and mouth another hit knocked him down, and he fell through three stories of superstructure. Still, the 13 year-old made it to his feet, dazed and bleeding, and helped pull other crew members to safety while others were thrown by the force of the explosions, their bodies aflame, into the Pacific.

“I took belts off the dead and made tourniquets for the living and gave them cigarettes and encouraged them all night,” Graham later said.  ”It was a long night. It aged me.” The shrapnel had knocked out his front teeth, and he had flash burns from the hot guns, but he was “fixed up with salve and a coupla stitches,” he recalled. “I didn’t do any complaining because half the ship was dead.  It was a while before they worked on my mouth.” In fact, the ship had casualties of 38 men killed and 60 wounded.

Regaining power, and after afflicting heavy damage to the Japanese ships, the South Dakota rapidly disappeared in the smoke. Captain Gatch would later remark of his “green” men, “Not one of the ship’s company flinched from his post or showed the least disaffection.” With the Japanese Imperial Navy under the impression that it had sunk the South Dakota, the legend of Battleship X was born.

After the Japanese Imperial Navy falsely believed it had sunk the South Dakota in November, 1942, the American vessel became known as “Battleship X.” Photo: Wikimedia

In mid-December, the damaged ship returned to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for major repairs, where Gatch and his crew were profiled for their heroic deeds in the Pacific. Calvin Graham received a Bronze Star for distinguishing himself in combat, as well as a Purple Heart for his injuries. But he couldn’t bask in glory with his fellow crewmen while their ship was being repaired. Graham’s mother, reportedly having recognized her son in newsreel footage, wrote the Navy, revealing the gunner’s true age.

Graham returned to Texas and was thrown in a brig at Corpus Christi, Texas, for almost three months.

Battleship X returned to the Pacific and continued to shoot Japanese planes out of the sky. Graham, meanwhile, managed to get a message out to his sister Pearl, who complained to the newspapers that the Navy was mistreating the “Baby Vet.” The Navy eventually ordered Graham’s release, but not before stripping him of his medals for lying about his age and revoking his disability benefits. He was simply tossed from jail with a suit and a few dollars in his pocket—and no honorable discharge.

Back in Houston, though, he was treated as a celebrity. Reporters were eager to write his story, and when the war film Bombadier premiered at a local theater, the film’s star, Pat O’Brien, invited Graham to the stage to be saluted by the audience. The attention quickly faded. At age 13, Graham tried to return to school, but he couldn’t keep pace with students his age and quickly dropped out. He married at age 14, became a father the following year, and found work as a welder in a Houston shipyard. Neither his job nor his marriage lasted long. At 17 years old and divorced, and with no service record, Graham was about to be drafted when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He soon broke his back in a fall, for which he received a 20 percent service-connected disability. The only work he could find after that was selling magazine subscriptions.

When President Jimmy Carter was elected, in 1976, Graham began writing letters, hoping that Carter, “an old Navy man,” might be sympathetic. All Graham had wanted was an honorable discharge so he could get help with his medical and dental expenses. “I had already given up fighting” for the discharge, Graham said at the time. “But then they came along with this discharge program for deserters. I know they had their reasons for doing what they did, but I figure I damn sure deserved more than they did.”

In 1977, Texas Senators Lloyd Bentsen and John Tower introduced a bill to give Graham his discharge, and in 1978, Carter announced that it had been approved and that Graham’s medals would be restored, with the exception of the Purple Heart.  Ten years later, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation approving disability benefits for Graham.


Contents

History is filled with children who have been trained and used for fighting, assigned to support roles such as porters or messengers, used as sex slaves, or recruited for tactical advantage as human shields or for political advantage in propaganda. [1] [3] [25] In 1814, for example, Napoleon conscripted many teenagers for his armies. [26] Thousands of children participated on all sides of the First World War and the Second World War. [27] [28] [29] [30] Children continued to be used throughout the 20th and early 21st century on every continent, with concentrations in parts of Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. [31] Only since the turn of the millennium have international efforts begun to limit and reduce the military use of children. [10] [32]

State armed forces Edit

Since the adoption in 2000 of the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC) the global trend has been towards restricting armed forces recruitment to adults aged 18 or over, known as the Straight-18 standard. [21] [33] Most states with armed forces have opted in to OPAC, which also prohibits states that still recruit children from using them in armed conflict. [33]

Nonetheless, Child Soldiers International reported in 2018 that children under the age of 18 were still being recruited and trained for military purposes in 46 countries [34] of these, most recruit from age 17, fewer than 20 recruit from age 16, and an unknown, smaller number, recruit younger children. [21] [22] [35] The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and others have called for an end to the recruitment of children by state armed forces, arguing that military training, the military environment, and a binding contract of service are not compatible with children's rights and jeopardize healthy development during adolescence. [36] [22] [37] [38]

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates hired child soldiers from Sudan (especially from Darfur) to fight against Houthis during the Yemeni Civil War (2015–present). [39] [40] [41]

Non-state armed groups Edit

These include non-state armed Paramilitary organisations, using children such as militias, insurgents, terrorist organizations, guerrilla movements, ideologically or religiously-driven groups, armed liberation movements, and other types of quasi-military organisation. In 2017 the United Nations identified 14 countries where children were widely used by such groups: Afghanistan, Colombia, [42] Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria, Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. [24]

Not all armed groups use children and approximately 60 have entered agreements to reduce or end the practice since 1999. [23] For example, by 2017, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the Philippines had released nearly 2,000 children from its ranks, [43] and in 2016, the FARC-EP guerrilla movement in Colombia agreed to stop recruiting children. [24] Other countries have seen the reverse trend, particularly Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria and Syria, where Islamist militants and groups opposing them have intensified their recruitment, training, and use of children. [24]

Global estimate Edit

In 2003 P. W. Singer of the Brookings Institution estimated that child soldiers participate in about three-quarters of ongoing conflicts. [44] In the same year the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimated that most of these children were aged over 15, although some were younger. [45]

Today, due to the widespread military use of children in areas where armed conflict and insecurity prevent access by UN officials and other third parties, it is difficult to estimate how many children are affected. [46] In 2017 Child Soldiers International estimated that several tens of thousands of children, possibly more than 100,000, were in state- and non-state military organisations around the world, [46] and in 2018 the organisation reported that children were being used to participate in at least 18 armed conflicts. [34]

Despite children's physical and psychological underdevelopment relative to adults, there are many reasons why state- and non-state military organisations seek them out. Cited examples include:

    has suggested that the global proliferation of light automatic weapons, which children can easily handle, has made the use of children as direct combatants more viable. [47] has pointed to the role of overpopulation in making children a cheap and accessible resource for military organisations. [48] has suggested that children are more willing than adults to fight for non-monetary incentives such as religion, honour, prestige, revenge and duty. [49]
  • Several commentators, including Bernd Beber, Christopher Blattman, Dave Grossman, Michael Wessels, and McGurk and colleagues, have argued that since children are more obedient and malleable than adults, they are easier to control, deceive and indoctrinate. [4][5][2][6]
  • David Gee and Rachel Taylor have found that in the UK, the army finds it easier to attract child recruits starting from age 16 than adults from age 18, [8] particularly those from poorer backgrounds. [50][51]
  • Some leaders of armed groups have claimed that children, despite their underdevelopment, bring their own qualities as combatants to a fighting unit, often being remarkably fearless, agile and hardy. [52]

While some children are forcibly recruited, deceived, or bribed into joining military organisations, others join of their own volition. [7] [53] [2] There are many reasons for this. In a 2004 study of children in military organisations around the world, Rachel Brett and Irma Specht pointed to a complex of factors that incentivise enlisting, particularly:

  • Background poverty including a lack of civilian education or employment opportunities
  • The cultural normalization of war
  • Seeking new friends
  • Revenge (for example, after seeing friends and relatives killed)
  • Expectations that a "warrior" role provides a rite of passage to maturity [7]

The following testimony from a child recruited by the Cambodian armed forces in the 1990s is typical of many children's motivations for joining up:

I joined because my parents lacked food and I had no school. I was worried about mines but what can we do—it's an order [to go to the front line]. Once somebody stepped on a mine in front of me—he was wounded and died. I was with the radio at the time, about 60 metres away. I was sitting in my hammock and saw him die. I see young children in every unit. I'm sure I'll be a soldier for at least a couple of more years. If I stop being a soldier I won't have a job to do because I don't have any skills. I don't know what I'll do. [54]

The scale of the impact on children was first acknowledged by the international community in a major report commissioned by the UN General Assembly, Impact of Armed Conflict on Children (1996), which was produced by the human rights expert Graça Machel. [10] The report was particularly concerned with the use of younger children, presenting evidence that many thousands of children were being killed, maimed, and psychiatrically injured around the world every year. [10]

Since the Machel Report further research has shown that child recruits who survive armed conflict face a markedly elevated risk of debilitating psychiatric illness, poor literacy and numeracy, and behavioural problems. [11] Research in Palestine and Uganda, for example, has found that more than half of former child soldiers showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and nearly nine in ten in Uganda screened positive for depressed mood. [11] Researchers in Palestine also found that children exposed to high levels of violence in armed conflict were substantially more likely than other children to exhibit aggression and anti-social behaviour. [11] The combined impact of these effects typically includes a high risk of poverty and lasting unemployment in adulthood. [11]

Further harm is caused when armed forces and groups detain child recruits, according to Human Rights Watch. [55] Children are often detained without sufficient food, medical care, or under other inhumane conditions, and some experience physical and sexual torture. [55] Some are captured with their families, or detained due to one of their family members' activity. Lawyers and relatives are frequently banned from any court hearing. [55]

Other research has found that the enlistment of children, including older children, has a detrimental impact even when they are not used in armed conflict until they reach adulthood. Military academics in the US have characterized military training (at all ages) as "intense indoctrination" in conditions of sustained stress, the primary purpose of which is to establish the unconditional and immediate obedience of recruits. [6] The academic literature has found that adolescents are more vulnerable than adults to a high-stress environment, such as that of initial military training, particularly those from a background of childhood adversity. [56] Enlistment, even before recruits are sent to war, is accompanied by a higher risk of attempted suicide in the US, [12] higher risk of mental disorders in the US and the UK, [14] [15] higher risk of alcohol misuse [16] [17] and higher risk of violent behaviour, [18] [19] [20] relative to recruits' pre-enlistment background. Military settings are also characterised by elevated rates of bullying and sexual harassment. [57] [58] [59]

Military recruitment practices have also been found to exploit the vulnerabilities of children in mid-adolescence. Specifically, evidence from Germany, [60] the UK [61] [62] [8] and the US [63] [64] [65] has shown that recruiters disproportionately target children from poorer backgrounds using marketing that omits the risks and restrictions of military life. Some academics have argued that marketing of this kind capitalises on the psychological susceptibility in mid-adolescence to emotionally-driven decision-making. [66] [67] [68] [56]

Recruitment and use of children Edit

Definition of child Edit

The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as any person under the age of 18. The Paris Principles define a child associated with an armed force or group as:

. any person below 18 years of age who is or who has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes. The document is approved by the United Nations General Assembly. It does not only refer to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in hostilities. [69]

Children aged under 15 Edit

The Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions (1977, Art. 77.2), [70] the convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002) all forbid state armed forces and non-state armed groups from using children under the age of 15 directly in armed conflict (technically "hostilities"). This is now recognised as a war crime. [71]

Children aged under 18 Edit

Most states with armed forces are also bound by the higher standards of the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC) (2000) and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999), which forbid the compulsory recruitment of those under the age of 18. [33] [72] OPAC also requires governments that still recruit children (from age 16) to "take all feasible measures to ensure that persons below the age of 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities". In addition, OPAC forbids non-state armed groups from recruiting children under any circumstances, although the legal force of this is uncertain. [73] [23]

The highest standard in the world is set by the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, [74] which forbids state armed forces from recruiting children under the age of 18 under any circumstances. Most African states have ratified the Charter. [74]

Limitations and loopholes Edit

States that are not a party to OPAC are subject to the lower standards set by Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions, which allows armed forces to use children over the age of fifteen in hostilities, and possibly to use younger children who have volunteered as spotters, observers, and message-carriers: [75]

The Parties to the conflict shall take all feasible measures so that children who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities and, in particular, they shall refrain from recruiting them into their armed forces. In recruiting among those who have attained the age of fifteen years but who have not attained the age of eighteen, the Parties to the conflict shall endeavor to prioritize those who are oldest.

The International Committee of the Red Cross had proposed that the Parties to the conflict should "take all necessary measures", which became in the final text, "take all feasible measures", which is not a total prohibition because feasible is understood as meaning "capable of being done, accomplished or carried out, possible or practicable". [75] During the negotiations over the clause "take a part in hostilities" the word "direct" was added to it, opening up the possibility that child volunteers could be involved indirectly in hostilities, such as by gathering and transmitting military information, helping in the transportation of arms and munitions, provision of supplies, etc. [75]

However, Article 4.3.c of Protocol II, additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts, adopted in 1977, states "children who have not attained the age of fifteen years shall neither be recruited in the armed forces or groups nor allowed to take part in hostilities". [76]

Standards for the release and reintegration of children Edit

OPAC requires governments to demobilise children within their jurisdiction who have been recruited or used in hostilities and to provide assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration. [77] Under war, civil unrest, armed conflict and other emergency situations, children and youths are also offered protection under the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict. To accommodate the proper disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of former members of armed groups, the United Nations started the Integrated DDR Standards in 2006. [78]

War crimes Edit

Opinion is currently divided over whether children should be prosecuted for war crimes. [79] International law does not prohibit the prosecution of children who commit war crimes, but Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child limits the punishment that a child can receive: "Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offenses committed by persons below eighteen years of age." [79]

Example: Sierra Leone Edit

In the wake of the Sierra Leone Civil War, the UN mandated the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) to try former combatants aged 15 and older for breaches of humanitarian law, including war crimes. However, the Paris Principles state that children who participate in armed conflict should be regarded first as victims, even if they may also be perpetrators:

. [those] who are accused of crimes under international law allegedly committed while they were associated with armed forces or armed groups should be considered primarily as victims of offenses against international law not only as perpetrators. They must be treated by international law in a framework of restorative justice and social rehabilitation, consistent with international law which offers children special protection through numerous agreements and principles. [80]

This principle was reflected in the Court's statute, which did not rule out prosecution but emphasised the need to rehabilitate and reintegrate former child soldiers. David Crane, the first Chief Prosecutor of the Sierra Leone tribunal, interpreted the statute in favour of prosecuting those who had recruited children, rather than the children themselves, no matter how heinous the crimes they had committed. [79]

Example: Omar Khadr Edit

In the US, prosecutors charged Omar Khadr, a Canadian, for offences they allege he committed in Afghanistan while under the age of 16 and fighting for the Taliban against US forces. [81] These crimes carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment under US law. [79] In 2010, while under torture and duress, Khadr pleaded guilty to murder in violation of the laws of war, attempted murder in violation of the laws of war, conspiracy, two counts of providing material support for terrorism, and spying. [82] [83] The plea was offered as part of a plea bargain, which would see Khadr deported to Canada after one year of imprisonment to serve seven further years there. [84] Omar Khadr remained in Guantanamo Bay and the Canadian government faced international criticism for delaying his repatriation. [85] Khadr was eventually transferred to the Canadian prison system in September 2012 and was freed on bail by a judge in Alberta in May 2015. As of 2016, Khadr was appealing his US conviction as a war criminal. [86]

Before sentencing the Special Representative to the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict wrote to the US military commission at Guantanamo appealing unsuccessfully for Khadr's release into a rehabilitation program. [87] In her letter she said that Khadr represented the "classic child soldier narrative: recruited by unscrupulous groups to undertake actions at the bidding of adults to fight battles they barely understand". [87]

Background Edit

Children's rights advocates were left frustrated after the final text of the convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) did not prohibit the military recruitment of all children under the age of 18, and they began to call for a new treaty to achieve this goal. [32] [88] As a consequence the newly formed Committee on the Rights of the Child made two recommendations: first, to request a major UN study into the impact of armed conflict on children and second, to establish a working group of the UN Commission on Human Rights to negotiate a supplementary protocol to the convention. [88] Both proposals were accepted. [32] [88]

Responding to the committee on the Rights of the Child, the UN General Assembly acknowledged "the grievous deterioration in the situation of children in many parts of the world as a result of armed conflicts" and commissioned the human rights expert Graça Machel to conduct a major fact-finding study. [89] The Machel Report, Impact of armed conflict on children, was published in 1996. [10] The report noted:

Clearly one of the most urgent priorities is to remove everyone under 18 years of age from armed forces. [10]

Meanwhile, the UN Commission on Human Rights established a working group to negotiate a treaty to raise standards with regard to the use of children for military purposes. [32] [88] After complex negotiations and a global campaign, the new treaty was agreed in 2000 as the Optional Protocol to the convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. [32] The treaty prohibits the direct participation of children in armed conflict, but not their recruitment by state armed forces from age 16. [90]

Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Edit

The Machel Report led to a new mandate for a Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG-CAAC). [89] Among the tasks of the SRSG is to draft the Secretary-General's annual report on children and armed conflict, which lists and describes the worst situations of child recruitment and use from around the world. [91]

Security Council Edit

The United Nations Security Council convenes regularly to debate, receive reports, and pass resolutions under the heading "Children in armed conflict". The first resolution on the issue, Resolution 1261, was passed in 1999. [92] In 2004 Resolution 1539 was passed unanimously, condemning the use of child soldiers and mandating the UN Secretary-General to establish a means of tracking and reporting on the practice, known as the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism. [93] [94]

United Nations Secretary-General Edit

The Secretary-General publishes an annual report on children and armed conflict. [95] The 2017 report identified 14 countries where children were widely used by armed groups during 2016 (Afghanistan, Colombia, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria, Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) and six countries where state armed forces were using children in hostilities (Afghanistan, Myanmar, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Syria). [24]

In 2011 United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon raised the issue of children in conflict areas who are involved in violent activities according to the Extreme Measures report. [96]

This section covers the use of children for military purposes today. For historical cases, see History of children in the military.

Africa Edit

In 2003, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that up to half of children involved with state armed forces and non-state armed groups worldwide were in Africa. [45] In 2004, Child Soldiers International estimated that 100,000 children were being used in state and non-state armed forces on the continent [97] and in 2008 an estimate put the total at 120,000 children, or 40 percent of the global total. [98]

The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990), which has been ratified by most African states, prohibits all military recruitment of children aged under 18. Nonetheless, according to the UN, in 2016 children were being used by armed groups in seven African countries (Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan) and by state armed forces in three (Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan). [24]

International efforts to reduce the number of children in military organisations in Africa began with the Cape Town Principles and Best Practices, developed in 1997. [99] The Principles proposed that African governments commit to OPAC, which was being negotiated at the time, and raise the minimum age for military recruitment from 15 to 18. [99] The Principles also defined a child soldier to include any person under the age of 18 who is "part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or group in any capacity . including girls recruited for sexual purposes . " [99]

In 2007, the Free Children from War conference in Paris produced the Paris Principles, which refined and updated the Cape Town Principles, applied them globally, and outlined a practical approach to reintegrating current child soldiers. [100]

Central African Republic Edit

The use of children by armed groups in the Central African Republic has historically been common. [97] Between 2012 and 2015 as many as 10,000 children were used by armed groups in the nationwide armed conflict and as of 2016 [update] children were still being used. [101] [24] The mainly Muslim Séléka coalition of armed groups and the predominantly Christian Anti-balaka militias have both used children in this way some are as young as eight. [102]

In May 2015 at the Forum de Bangui (a meeting of government, parliament, armed groups, civil society, and religious leaders), a number of armed groups agreed to demobilize thousands of children. [103]

In 2016 a measure of stability returned to the Central African Republic and, according to the United Nations, 2,691 boys and 1,206 girls were officially separated from armed groups. [24] Despite this, the recruitment and use of children for military purposes increased by approximately 50 percent over that year, mostly attributed to the Lord's Resistance Army. [24]

Democratic Republic of the Congo Edit

Thousands of children serve in the military of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), as well as in various rebel militias. It has been estimated that at the height of the Second Congo War more than 30,000 children were fighting with various parties to the conflict. It was claimed in the film Kony 2012 that the Lord's Resistance Army recruited this number. [104]

Currently, the DRC has one of the highest proportions of child soldiers in the world. The international court has passed judgment on these practices during the war. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, one of the warlords in the DRC, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison because of his role in the recruitment of child soldiers between 2002 and 2003. Lubanga directed the Union of Congolese Patriots and its armed wing Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo. The children were forced to fight in the armed conflict in Ituri. [105]

Somalia Edit

A report published by the Child Soldiers International in 2004 estimated that 200,000 children had been recruited into the country's militias against their will since 1991. [97] In 2017 UN Secretary-General António Guterres commented on a UN report which estimated that over 50 percent of Al-Shabaab's membership in the country was under the age of 18, with some as young as nine being sent to fight. [106] The report verified that 6,163 children had been recruited in Somalia between 1 April 2010 and 31 July 2016, of which 230 were girls. Al-Shabaab accounted for seventy percent of this recruitment, and the Somali National Army was also recruiting children. [106] [107]

Sudan Edit

In 2004 approximately 17,000 children were being used by the state armed forces and non-state armed groups. [108] As many as 5,000 children were part of the main armed opposite group at the time, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). [108] Some former child soldiers were sentenced to death for crimes committed while they were soldiers. [97]

In 2006, children were also recruited from refugee camps in Chad, and thousands were used in the conflict in Darfur. [109] In 2005 the government ratified the OPAC treaty and by 2008 the military use of children had reduced in the country, but both state armed forces and the SPLA continued to recruit and use them. [109] The use of children has continued to diminish, but in 2017 the UN was still receiving reports of children as young as 12 in government forces. [110] [111]

Uganda Edit

"The LRA in Uganda became known mainly through the forced recruitment of thousands of children and adolescents who were trained as soldiers or forced to ‘marry’ members of the rebel group. [. ] Unlike all other, or earlier, rebel groups in Uganda, the LRA made the violent abduction or enslavement of children (preferably aged between twelve and fourteen) its main method of recruitment and concentrated its activities on attacking the civilian population." [112]

Zimbabwe Edit

In 2003, the Guardian reported multiple human rights violations by the National Youth Service, a state-sponsored youth militia in Zimbabwe. [113] Originally conceived as a patriotic youth organisation, it became a paramilitary group of youth aged between 10 and 30, and was used to suppress dissent in the country. [114] The organisation was finally banned in January 2018. [115]

Americas Edit

Bolivia Edit

In 2001 the government of Bolivia acknowledged that children as young as 14 may have been forcibly conscripted into the armed forces during recruitment sweeps. [116] About 40% of the Bolivian army was believed to be under the age of 18, with half of those below the age of 16. [116] As of 2018 [update] , Bolivia invites children to begin their adult conscription early, from age 17. [117]

Canada Edit

In Canada, people may join the reserve component of the Canadian Forces at age 16 with parental permission, and the regular component at 17 years of age, also with parental permission. They may not volunteer for a tour of duty until reaching age 18. [118]

Colombia Edit

In the Colombian armed conflict, from the mid-1960s to present, one fourth of non-state combatants have been and still are under 18 years old. In 2004 Colombia ranked fourth in the world for the greatest use of child soldiers. There are currently 11,000–14,000 children in armed groups in the country. In negotiations with the government, armed groups have offered to stop the recruitment of minors as a bargaining chip, but they have not honoured these offers. [119] [120] Bjørkhaug argues that most child soldiers were recruited through some combination of voluntary participation and coercion. [121]

In 1998 a Human Rights Watch press release indicated that 30 percent of some guerrilla units were made up of children and up to 85 percent of some of the militias, which are considered to serve as a "training ground for future guerrilla fighters", had child soldiers [122] In the same press release it was estimated that some of the government-linked paramilitary units consisted of up to 50 percent children, including some as young as 8 years old. [123] [122]

In 2005 an estimated 11,000 children were involved with left- or right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia. "Approximately 80 percent of child combatants in Colombia belong to one of the two left-wing guerrilla groups, the FARC or ELN. The remainder fight in paramilitary ranks, predominately the AUC." [124] According to P. W. Singer the FARC attack on the Guatape hydroelectric facility in 1998 involved militants as young as eight years old and a 2001 FARC training video depicted boys as young as 11 working with missiles. The group has also taken in children from Venezuela, Panama, and Ecuador. [123]

The Colombian government's security forces do not officially recruit children [125] as the legal age for both compulsory and voluntary recruitment has been set at 18. However, students were allowed to enroll as cadets in military secondary schools and 16- or 17-year-olds could enter air force or national army training programs, respectively. In addition, captured enemy child combatants were employed by the Colombian military for intelligence gathering purposes in potential violation of legal prohibitions. [126]

The demobilization efforts targeted toward the FARC in 2016–2017 have provided hope that the conflict will come to an end, limiting the number of children involved in violence. However, other armed groups have yet to be demobilized, and conflict is not yet resolved. [127]

Cuba Edit

In Cuba, compulsory military service for both boys and girls starts at age 17. Male teenagers are allowed to join the Territorial Troops Militia prior to their compulsory service. [128]

Haiti Edit

In Haiti an unknown number of children participate in various loosely organised armed groups that are engaged in political violence. [129]

United States Edit

In the United States 17-year-olds may join the armed forces with the written agreement of parents. [130] As of 2015 approximately 16,000 17-year-olds were being enlisted annually. [131]

The US Army describes outreach to schools as the 'cornerstone' of its approach to recruitment, [132] and the No Child Left Behind Act gives recruiters the legal right of access to all school students' contact details. [133] Children's rights bodies have criticized the US' reliance on children to staff its armed forces. [134] [135] [136] The committee on the Rights of the Child has recommended that the US raise the minimum age of enlistment to 18. [134]

In negotiations on the OPAC treaty during the 1990s the US joined the UK in strongly opposing a global minimum enlistment age of 18. As a consequence the treaty specified a minimum age of 16. [32] The US ratified the treaty in 2002 (but as of 2018 U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child has not happened). [137]

Per OPAC, US military personnel are normally prohibited from direct participation in hostilities until the age of 18. Still, they are eligible for 'forward deployment', which means that may be posted to a combat zone to perform support tasks. [138] The committee on the Rights of the Child has called on the US to change this policy and ensure that no minor can be deployed to a forward operating area in a combat zone. [139]

In 2003 and 2004 approximately 60 underage personnel were deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq in error. [135] The Department of Defense subsequently stated that "the situations were immediately rectified and action taken to prevent recurrence." [140]

In 2008 President George W. Bush signed the Child Soldiers Protection Act into law. [141] [142] The law criminalizes leading a military force which recruits child soldiers. It also prohibits arms sales to countries where children are used for military purposes. The law's definition of child soldiers includes "any person under 18 years of age who takes a direct part in hostilities as a member of governmental armed forces." In 2014 President Barack Obama announced he was waiving the Child Soldiers Protection Act ban on aid and arms sales to nations that use child soldiers. [143]

Middle East Edit

Bahrain Edit

Military cadets, NCO trainees and technical personnel can enlist in the Bahrain Defence Force from the age of 15. [144]

Iran Edit

Current Iranian law officially prohibits the recruitment of those under 16. [145] [123]

During the Iran–Iraq War, children were drafted into the Basij army where, according to critics of the Iranian government, they "were sent to the front as waves of human shields". [146] [147] Other sources have estimated the total number of all Iranian casualties to be in the 200,000–600,000 range. [148] [149] [150] [151] [152] [153] [154] [155] [156] [145] One source estimates that 3% of the Iran–Iraq War's casualties were under the age of 14. [157]

There were Iranian children who left school and participated in the Iran–Iraq War without the knowledge of their parents, including Mohammad Hossein Fahmideh. Iraqi officers claimed that they sometimes captured Iranian child soldiers as young as eight years old. [158]

As of 2018 the Iranian government has been recruiting children from Iran and Afghanistan to fight in the Syrian Civil War on the side of forces loyal to the Assad government. [159] [160]

Palestine Edit

Jihad Shomaly, in a report entitled Use of Children in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, published in 2004 for the Defence for Children International/Palestine Section, concludes the report by stating that a handful of children perceive martyrdom a way to strike a blow against those they hold responsible for their hopeless situation, and that they have been recruited by Palestinian paramilitary groups to carry out armed attacks. However, Shomaly goes on to state that there is no systematic recruitment and that senior representatives of the groups and of the Palestinian community are against the recruitment of children as a political strategy. Shomaly believed that the Palestinians' political leadership could do more to discourage the use of children by paramilitaries by requesting that the leadership of the paramilitaries sign a memorandum forbidding the training and recruitment of children. Hamas, the Palestinian organisation reigning over the Gaza strip, has been known to indoctrinate child soldiers with controversial ideologies, such as inciting violence against Israeli defence forces. [161]

William O'Brien, a professor of Georgetown University, wrote about the active participation of Palestinian children in the First Intifada: "It appears that a substantial number, if not the majority, of troops of the intifada are young people, including elementary schoolchildren. They are engaged in throwing stones and molotov cocktails and other forms of violence." [162] Arab journalist Huda Al-Hussein wrote in a London Arab newspaper on 27 October 2000:

While UN organizations save child-soldiers, especially in Africa, from the control of militia leaders who hurl them into the furnace of gang-fighting, some Palestinian leaders. consciously issue orders for the purpose of ending their childhood, even if it means their last breath. [163]

In 2002 the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (now Child Soldiers International) said that, "while there are reports of children participating in hostilities, there is no evidence of systematic recruitment by armed groups". [164] [165] In 2004, however, the organisation reported that there were at least nine documented suicide attacks involving Palestinian minors between October 2000 and March 2004, [31] stating:

There was no evidence of systematic recruitment of children by Palestinian armed groups. However, children are used as messengers and couriers, and in some cases as fighters and suicide bombers in attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians. All the main political groups involve children in this way, including Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad [ disambiguation needed ] , and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. [166]

In May 2008 a Child Soldiers International report highlighted Hamas and Islamic Jihad for having "used children in military attacks and training" in its Iranian section. [145]

On 23 May 2005 Amnesty International reiterated its calls to Palestinian armed groups to put an immediate end to the use of children in armed activities: "Palestinian armed groups must not use children under any circumstances to carry out armed attacks or to transport weapons or other material." [167]

Turkey (PKK) Edit

During the Kurdish-Turkish conflict, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has actively recruited and kidnapped children. The organization has been accused of abducting more than 2,000 children by Turkish Security Forces. The independent reports by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), the United Nations (UN) and the Amnesty International have confirmed the recruitment and use of child soldiers by the organization and its armed wings since the 90's. [168] [169] [170] [171] In 2001, it was reported that the recruitment of the children by the organization has been systematic. Several reports have reported about the organization's battalion, called Tabura Zaroken Sehit Agit, which has been formed mainly for the recruitment of children. [172] It was also reported that the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) had recruited children. [173]

According to the Turkish Security Forces, the PKK has abducted more than 983 children aged between 12 and 17. More than 400 children have fled from the organization and surrendered to the security forces. The United Nations Children's Fund report, published in 2010, saw the recruitment of the children by the PKK concerning and dangerous. [174]

In 2016, the Human Rights Watch, accused the PKK of committing war crimes by recruiting child soldiers in the Shingal region of Iraq and in neighboring countries. [169] [175]

Throughout the Syrian Civil War multiple media outlets including Human Rights Watch have confirmed that the YPG, an organization linked to the PKK, has been recruiting and deploying child soldiers. Despite a claim by the group that it would stop using children, which has been violation of international law, the group has continued the recruitment and use of children. [176] [177] [178]

In 2018, the annual UN report on children in armed conflict found 224 cases of child recruitment by the People's Protection Units and its women's unit in 2017, an almost fivefold increase from the 2016. Seventy-two of the children, nearly one-third, were girls. The group was also reported to had abducted children to enlist them. [179]

Lebanon Edit

Many different sides in the Lebanese Civil War used child soldiers. A May 2008 Child Soldiers International report stated that Hezbollah trains children for military services. [145] In 2017, the UN reported that armed groups, suspected to be Islamist militants, were recruiting children in the country. [24]

Syria Edit

During the ongoing Syrian Civil War children have joined groups opposed to Bashar al Assad. In 2012 the UN received allegations of rebels using child soldiers, but said they were unable to verify these. [180] In June 2014 a United Nations report said that the opposition had recruited children in military and support roles. While there seemed to be no policy of doing so, the report said, there were no age verification procedures. [181] Human Rights Watch reported in 2014 that rebel factions have been using children in support and combatant roles, ranging from treating the wounded on battlefields, ferrying ammunition and other supplies to frontlines while fighting raged, to acting as snipers. [182]

The Turkish government linked think tank SETA withdrew a report detailing the composition of the Syrian National Army as it revealed the use of child soldiers. The Syrian National Army is currently funded by Turkey, who signed the optional protocol to the convention on the rights of the child on the involvement of children in armed conflict 08/09/2000. It was reported that Turkey has deployed child soldiers in the Syrian National Army to Libya according to a report by Al-Monitor, citing sources on the ground. [183] [184]

Kurdish forces have also been accused of using this tactic. In 2015 Human Rights Watch claimed that 59 children, 10 of them under 15 years old, were recruited by or volunteered for the YPG or YPJ since July 2014 when the Kurdish militia leaders signed a Deed of Commitment with Geneva Call. [185]

President Assad passed a law in 2013 prohibiting the use of child soldiers (anyone under 18), the breaking of which is punishable by 10–20 years of 'penal labour.' [186] Whether or not the law is actually enforced on government's forces has not been confirmed, and there have been allegations of children being recruited to fight for the Syrian government against rebel forces. [187] [182]

Iranian government is recruiting children from Iran and Afghanistan to fight in the Syrian Civil War on the side of the government forces loyal to Assad. [159] [160]

Yemen Edit

U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy stated in January 2010 that "large numbers" of teenage boys are being recruited in Yemeni tribal fighting. NGO activist Abdul-Rahman al-Marwani has estimated that as many as 500–600 children are either killed or wounded through tribal combat every year in Yemen. [188]

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates hired child soldiers from Sudan (especially from Darfur), and Yemen to fight against Houthis during the Yemeni Civil War (2015-present). [39] [40] [41]

British SAS special forces are allegedly involved in training child soldiers in Yemen. Reportedly at least 40% of soldiers fighting for the Saudi-led coalition are children. [189]

Saudi Arabia is also hiring Yemeni child soldiers to guard Saudi border against Houthis. [190]

In June 2019, Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, has blocked the inclusion of Saudi Arabia on the US list of countries that recruit child soldiers, dismissing his experts’ findings that a Saudi-led coalition has been using children in Yemen’s civil war. [191]

Asia Edit

In 2004 the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (now Child Soldiers International) reported that in Asia thousands of children are involved in fighting forces in active conflict and ceasefire situations in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Government refusal of access to conflict zones has made it impossible to document the numbers involved. [192] In 2004 Myanmar was unique in the region as the only country where government armed forces forcibly recruited and used children between the ages of 12 and 16. [192] Johnny and Luther Htoo, twin brothers who jointly led the God's Army guerrilla group, were estimated to have been around ten years old when they began leading the group in 1997. [193]

Afghanistan Edit

Militias recruited thousands of child soldiers during the Afghan civil war over three decades. Many are still fighting now, for the Taliban. Some of those taken from Islamic religious schools, or madrassas, are used as suicide bombers and gunmen. A propaganda video of boys marching in camouflage uniform and using slogans of martyrdom was issued in 2009 by the Afghan Taliban's leadership. This included a eulogy to a 14-year-old Taliban fighter who allegedly killed an American soldier. [194]

Burma/Myanmar Edit

The State Peace and Development Council has asserted that all of its soldiers volunteered and that all of those accepted are 18 or over. According to Human Rights Watch as many as 70,000 boys serve in Burma/Myanmar's national army, the Tatmadaw, with children as young as 11 being forcibly recruited off the streets. Desertion, the group reported, leads to punishments of three to five years in prison or even execution. The group has also stated that about 5,000–7,000 children serve with a range of different armed ethnic opposition groups, most notably in the United Wa State Army. [195] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a report in June 2009 mentioning "grave violations" against children in the country by both the rebels and the government. The administration announced on 4 August that they would send a team into Burma/Myanmar to press for more action. [196]

In China secondary school and university pupils at the start of each year have one or two weeks compulsory military training.

India Edit

In India volunteers can join the Navy from the age of 16 and a half, and the Air Force from the age of 17. These soldiers are not deployed until after training by which time they are 18 years or older. [197]

Nepal Edit

An estimated 6,000–9,000 children serve in the Communist Party of Nepal forces. As of 2010, child soldiers of the CPN has since been demobilized [198]

The Philippines Edit

Islamist and communist armed groups fighting the government have routinely relied on child recruits. [199] In 2001 Human Rights Watch reported that an estimated 13 percent of the 10,000 soldiers in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were children, and that some paramilitary forces linked to the government were also using children. [200] In 2016 the MILF allowed 1,869 children to leave and committed not to recruit children any more. [24] In the same year, however, the UN reported that other armed groups in the Philippines continue to recruit children, mainly between the ages of 13 and 17. [24]

Europe Edit

According to Child Soldiers International the trend in Europe has been towards recruiting only adults from age 18 [21] most states only allow adult recruitment, [8] and as of 2016 no armed groups were known to be using children. [38] As of 2018 [update] one country, the United Kingdom, was enlisting children from age 16, and five were enlisting from age 17 (Austria, Cyprus, France, Germany, and Netherlands). [34] Of these, the UK recruits children in the greatest numbers in 2016, approximately a quarter of new recruits to the British army were aged under 18. [8]

All European states have ratified the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, [201] and so child recruits are not typically used in hostilities until they reach adulthood. [90] Children were used as combatants in the First Chechen War during the 1990s. [202]

Austria Edit

Austria invites children to begin their adult compulsory military service one year early, at age 17, with the consent of their parents. [203]

Cyprus Edit

Cyprus invites children to begin their adult compulsory military service two years early, at age 16, with the consent of their parents. [204]

France Edit

France enlists military personnel from age 17, and students for military technical school from age 16 3% of its armed forces' intake is aged under 18. [205]

Germany Edit

Germany enlists military personnel from age 17 in 2015 6% of its armed forces' intake was aged under 18. [206]

Netherlands Edit

The Netherlands enlists military personnel from age 17 in 2014 5% of its armed forces' intake was aged under 18. [207]

The Russian Armed Forces has Military Cadet Schools which takes pupils from the age of 16. The Russian Armed Forces also runs summer camps for school age children. There is also a small amount of compulsory military training in secondary schools as preparation for compulsory military service for males.

Ukraine Edit

During the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine in 2014 Justice for Peace at Donbas documented 41 verified individual cases of child recruitment into armed formations. [208] Of those 37 concerned the participation of children in armed formations on territory not controlled by Ukraine and 4 on territory controlled by Ukraine. There were 31 further reports of child recruitment which could not be verified. Of the 37 verified cases on territory not controlled by Ukraine, 33 were boys and 4 were girls 57% were aged 16–17, 35% were under 15, and age could not be determined in 8% of cases. [208]

United Kingdom Edit

The British Army Foundation College takes pupils from age 16 and accepts applications from children aged 15 years, 7 months. [209] As of 2016 [update] approximately one-quarter of enlistees to the British Army were aged under 18. [8] As per the OPAC the UK does not routinely send child recruits to participate in hostilities, and it requires recruiters to seek parental consent prior to enlistment. [210] Children's rights bodies have criticised the UK's reliance on children to staff its armed forces. [211] [212] [213] [8]

Although the UK normally prohibits deployment to war zones until recruits turn 18, it does not rule out doing so. [201] It inadvertently deployed 22 personnel aged under 18 to Iraq and Afghanistan between 2003 and 2010. [214] The committee on the Rights of the Child has urged the UK to alter its policy so as to ensure that children cannot take part in hostilities under any circumstances. [215] In negotiations on the OPAC during the 1990s the UK joined the US in opposing a global minimum enlistment age of 18. [32]

In 2014, a group of 17-year-old army recruits alleged that 17 instructors had maltreated them during their training over nine days in June 2014. [216] [217] [218] It was reported as the British army's largest ever investigation of abuse. [216] [219] Among the allegations were that the instructors assaulted recruits, smeared cattle dung into their mouths, and held their heads under water. [217] [216] [219] The court martial began in 2018, [218] but soon collapsed after the judge ruled that the Royal Military Police (RMP) had abused the investigatory process and that a fair trial would therefore not be possible. [220]

Oceania Edit

Australia Edit

The Australian Defence Force allows personnel to enlist with parental consent from the age of 17. Personnel under the age of 18 cannot be deployed overseas or used in direct combat except in extreme circumstances where it is not possible to evacuate them. [221]

New Zealand Edit

As of 2018, the minimum age for joining the New Zealand Defence Force was 17. [222]

The military use of children has been common throughout history only in recent decades has the practice met with informed criticism and concerted efforts to end it. [223] Progress has been slow, partly because many armed forces have relied on children to fill their ranks, [21] [22] [32] and partly because the behaviour of non-state armed groups is difficult to influence. [23]

Recent history Edit

1970s–1980s Edit

International efforts to limit children's participation in armed conflict began with the Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, adopted in 1977 (Art. 77.2). [70] The new Protocols prohibited the military recruitment of children aged under 15, but continued to allow state armed forces and non-state armed groups to recruit children from age 15 and use them in warfare. [75] [32]

Efforts were renewed during negotiations on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), when Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) campaigned for the new treaty to outlaw child recruitment entirely. [32] Some states, whose armed forces relied on recruiting below the age of 18, resisted this, so the final treaty text of 1989 only reflected the existing legal standard: the prohibition of the direct participation of children aged under 15 in hostilities. [32]

1990s Edit

In the 1990s NGOs established the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (now Child Soldiers International) to work with sympathetic governments on a campaign for a new treaty to correct the deficiencies they saw in the CRC. [32] After a global campaign lasting six years, the treaty was adopted in 2000 as the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC). The treaty prohibits child conscription, ensures that military recruits are no younger than 16, and forbids the use of child recruits in hostilities. The treaty also forbids non-state armed groups from recruiting anyone under the age of 18 for any purpose. [90] Although most states negotiating OPAC supported a ban on recruiting children, some states, led by the US in alliance with the UK, objected to this. [32] [88] As such, the treaty does not ban the recruitment of children aged 16 or 17, although it allows states to bind themselves to a higher standard in law. [90]

2000s–present Edit

After the adoption of the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, a campaign for global ratification made swift progress. [32] As of 2018 OPAC had been ratified by 167 states. [201] The campaign also successfully encouraged many states not to recruit children at all. In 2001 83 states only allowed adult enlistment, by 2016 this had increased to 126, which is 71 percent of countries with armed forces. [21] Approximately 60 non-state armed groups have also entered agreements to stop or scale back their use of children, often brokered by the UN or the NGO Geneva Call. [23]

Child Soldiers International reports that the success of the OPAC treaty, combined with the gradual decline in child recruitment by state armed forces, has led to a reduction of children in military organisations worldwide. [21] As of 2018 [update] the recruitment and use of children remains widespread. In particular, militant Islamist organisations such as ISIS and Boko Haram, as well as armed groups fighting them, have used children extensively. [38] In addition, the three most populous states – China, India and the United States – still allow their armed forces to enlist children aged 16 or 17, as do five of the Group of Seven countries: Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, again. [21]

Events Edit

Red Hand Day (also known as the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers) on 12 February is an annual commemoration day to draw public attention to the practice of using children as soldiers in wars and armed conflicts. The date reflects the entry into force of the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. [90]

Countering the militarisation of childhood Edit

Many states which do not allow their armed forces to recruit children have continued to draw criticism for marketing military life to children through the education system, in civic spaces and in popular entertainment such as films and videogames. [224] Some commentators have argued that this marketing to children is manipulative and part of a military recruitment process and should therefore be evaluated ethically as such. [62] [225] This principle has led some groups to campaign for relations between military organisations and young people to be regulated, on the grounds of children's rights and public health. [63] [226] Examples are the Countering the Militarization of Youth programme of War Resisters' International, [227] the Stop Recruiting Kids campaign in the US, [228] and the Military Out of Schools campaign in the UK. [226] Similar concerns have been raised in Germany and Israel. [60] [229]

Child Soldiers International defines reintegration as: "The process through which children formerly associated with armed forces/groups are supported to return to civilian life and play a valued role in their families and communities" [230] Programs that aim to rehabilitate and reintegrate child soldiers, such as those sponsored by UNICEF, often emphasise three components: family reunification/community network, psychological support, and education/economic opportunity. [27] [231] These efforts take a minimum commitment of 3 to 5 years in order for programs to be successfully implemented. [27] [231] Generally, reintegration efforts seek to return children to a safe environment, to create a sense of forgiveness on the behalf of the child's family and community through religious and cultural ceremonies and rituals, and encourage the reunification of the child with his or her family. [27] [231]

Reintegration efforts can become challenging when the child in question has committed war crimes because in these cases stigma and resentment within the community can be exacerbated. In situations such as these, it is important that the child's needs are balanced with a sense of community justice. [27] [231] These situations should be addressed immediately because if not, many children face the threat of re-enlistment. [230] There are also two areas of reintegration that warrant special consideration: female child soldiers and drug use among child soldiers. [28] [231] Child soldiers under the influence of drugs or who have contracted sexually transmitted diseases require additional programmes specific to their needs. [27] [231]


How Alfred Zech built a new life for himself

After his release from the prison camp, Alfred married and became a miner. His hometown Goldenau was now part of Communist Poland. As a German, he was ostracized by the Polish majority. Consequently, he submitted multiple requests to move to Germany.

Finally, in 1964, Polish authorities allowed him to emigrate. He settled in West Germany and worked as a carpenter.

He and his wife Gertrud had ten children and twenty grandchildren. Until the last day, he was proud of his Iron Cross. Although he had to throw away his original Iron Cross, he bought another one. He died at the age of seventy-eight.


German armed forces Edit

Hitler Youth Edit

Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend) was established as an organization in Nazi Germany that physically trained youth and indoctrinated them with Nazi ideology to the point of fanaticism. Even at the onset of war, the Hitler Youth totalled 8.8 million members. Numbers decreased significantly (to just over one million) once the war began, as many local and district leaders were drafted for the national army. [1] The previous average age for local and district leaders was 24, but following the onset of war, this had to change to those who were 16 and 17 years of age. These youths were in command of up to 500 boys. [2]

One Hitler Youth soldier, Heinz Shuetze aged 15 from Leipzig, was only given a half-day of training with a Panzerfaust. He was immediately given an SS uniform and directed to the front lines to fight. [3]

Huge numbers of youths were removed from school in early 1945, and sent on what were essentially suicide missions. [4] Hitler Youth activities often included learning to throw grenades and dig trenches, bayonet drills and escaping under barbed wire under pistol fire the boys were encouraged to find these activities exhilarating and exciting. [5] The Hitler Youth was essentially an army of fit, young Germans that Hitler had created, trained to fight for their country. They had the "choice" either to follow Nazi party orders or to face trial with the possibility of execution. [6]

The boys of Hitler Youth first saw action following the British air raids in Berlin in 1940. Later, in 1942, the Wehrertüchtigungslager or WEL (Defense Strengthening Camps) were created in Germany they were designed to train Hitler Youth boys aged 16–18. They learnt how to handle German infantry weaponry, including hand grenades, machine guns and hand pistols. By 1943, Hitler Youth boys were facing the forces of Britain, the United States and Soviet Russia. [7]

Even younger boys from the ages of 10–14 years could be involved in the Hitler Youth movement, under the Deutsches Jungvolk. [8]

Girls were also involved in Hitler Youth Operations, although in a limited capacity, through the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM, the League of German Girls). [9] Avoiding direct armed conflict, their primary role was to produce healthy, racially pure baby boys. [10] They were also required to run 60 metres in 14 seconds, throw a ball at least 12 metres, march for 2 hours and swim 100 metres. [11]

SS Youth Division Edit

Towards the end of the war, the Germans established an entire SS Panzer Tank Division with the majority of its recruits being 16- and 17-year-old boys from the Hitler Youth brigades. [12] In the 1st Battalion over 65% were under 18 years old, and only 3% were over 25. [13] There were more than 10,000 boys in this division. [14]

The 12th SS Panzer Division of the Hitlerjugend was established later in World War II as Germany suffered more casualties, and more young people "volunteered", initially as reserves, but soon joined front line troops. These children saw extensive action and were among the fiercest and most effective German defenders in the Battle of Berlin. [15] In the battle of the Normandy beaches, the division suffered 60% casualties, most of whom were teenagers. [16]

These fearsome young boy soldiers acquired a formidable reputation for their violent and unforgiving practice, shooting prisoners, and were responsible for 64 deaths of British and Canadian soldiers between 7–16 June 1944. [17]

Other German involvement Edit

In late 1944, the People's Army was formed ("Volkssturm") in anticipation of an Allied invasion. Men of all ages, from 16–60 were conscripted into this army. [18]

Children as young as 8 were reported as having been captured by American troops, with boys aged 12 and under manning artillery units. Girls were also being placed in armed combat, operating anti-aircraft, or flak, guns alongside boys. Children commonly served in auxiliary roles in the Luftwaffe and were known as flakhelfer, from luftwaffenhelfer. [19]

Japan Edit

In anticipation of the possible Allied invasion of Japan, Japanese military authorities also trained young teenagers to fight the enemy with bamboo spears and other (often poorly) improvised weapons. Some Japanese children aged 17 years volunteered to be Kamikaze suicide pilots. [20]

The Japanese Imperial Army mobilized students aged 14–17 years in Okinawa island for the Battle of Okinawa. This mobilization was conducted by the ordinance of the Ministry of Army, not by law. The ordinances mobilized the student for a volunteer soldier for form's sake. However, in reality, the military authorities ordered schools to force almost all students to "volunteer" for soldiers. Sometimes they counterfeited the necessary documents of students. And student soldiers "Tekketsu Kinnotai" were killed such as in suicide attacks against a tank with bombs and in guerrilla operations.

After losing in the Battle of Okinawa in June 1945, the Japanese government enacted new laws in preparation for the decisive battles in the main islands. They were the laws that made it possible boys aged 15 or older and girls aged 17 or older to be drafted into the army for actual battles. Those who tried to escape the draft were punished by imprisonment.

The Japanese surrender, however, had forestalled the Allied invasion of the Japanese main islands, and therefore rendered these child soldiers unnecessary. [21] [22]

Jewish resistance Edit

During the Holocaust, Jews of all ages participated in the Jewish resistance simply to survive. Most Jewish Resistance took place after 1942 when the Nazi atrocities became clear. [23] Many Polish political leaders fled Warsaw at the onset of war, and those who remained were generally executed, jailed or forced to serve on the Jewish Council (Judenrat). [24]

Leaders of the Zionist Youth Movement who fled returned to Warsaw through a sense of responsibility as local leaders, for both youth in general and the wider Jewish community. [25] More than 100,000 young Jews participated in resistance youth movements, despite the Germans outlawing such activity. [26]

The Zionist groups' focus changed with the onset of war. Before the war, they focused on social and ideological development. Feeling a higher sense of responsibility to their people during the war, they set out to educate their people by setting up underground schools in ghettos. [27]

These leaders led a ghetto resistance, determining political and social action underground. [28] Youth of the Zionist resistance were part of the Armee Juive (Jewish Army) in France, created in 1942, an armed Jewish resistance in Western Europe. They took part in the 1944 uprisings against the Germans in Paris. [29]

Many members of the youth movement Hashomer Hatzair fought in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943. The participation of children in this armed resistance is usually regarded as nothing short of heroic. [30]

Soviet Union Edit

A number of child soldiers served in the Soviet Union's armed forces during World War II. In some cases, orphans also unofficially joined the Soviet Red Army. Such children were affectionately known as "sons of the regiment" (Russian: сын полка) and sometimes willingly performed military missions such as reconnaissance. Officially, the age of military conscription was lowered to 18 for those without secondary education and 19 for those with higher education. [31] In 1943 and 1944, 16–17 years old teenagers (born 1926-7), many from Central Asia, were drafted. These soldiers served in secondary units, not combat. Many were sent to the Far East, to replace units sent to the German front. After training and coming of age, these youth were sent to the front too. [32]

United Kingdom Edit

In the United Kingdom, boys of 17 were accepted into the Home Guard when it was formed in 1940 in preparation for a German invasion and as a "last line of defence". [33] On 27 September 1942, the minimum age was lowered to 16 provided there was parental consent. [34] They were nicknamed "Dad's Army". [35] The Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden, called for men between the ages of 17 and 65 for Home Guard duty, so it was voluntarily undertaken by those of the younger age. Initially a rag-tag militia, the Home Guard and its young volunteers became well-equipped and well-trained. More than 1,200 Home Guard men died from German bombings. [36]

United States Edit

In World War II, the US only allowed men and women 18 years or older to be drafted or enlisted into the armed forces, although 17-year-olds were allowed to enlist with parental consent, and women were not allowed in armed conflict. [37] Some successfully lied about their age. The youngest member of the United States military was 12-year-old Calvin Graham. He lied about his age when he enlisted in the US Navy, and his real age was not known until after he was wounded. [38]

Poland Edit

From 1939, Polish youth created multiple resistance organisations. Children also joined military organisations despite the age limit, where they acted as liaison or distributor. At the end of the war in extreme situations also acted in Operation Tempest or Warsaw Uprising. In November 1942 were put in place age ranges: school of military support aged 12 to 15 years same school and acting in Minor sabotage, Operation N, liaison office and reconnaissance aged 16 to 18 years older had military training and joined Home Army. [39] There were only few well known children aged below 14 who took part in military fights.

The legality of the use of children in armed conflicts, as soldiers or in other capacities, has changed significantly in the last century. During both world wars, the legal framework was under-developed. Following World War I, in 1924 the League of Nations adopted the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child. [40] Despite this attempt to protect children's rights, stating they must be "protected against every form of exploitation," [41] the rise of fascism that led to the start of World War II left millions of children again unprotected – gassed, killed or orphaned. [42]

Definition of a child Edit

The lack of legal protection for children in times of war, which allows for their exploitation, can be linked to the lack of a universally recognised definition of a child during World War II.

Prior to the creation of the United Nations during World War II, protection of child welfare was predominantly embodied in the laws of war, jus in bello. [43] These laws sought to outlaw war. [44]

In relation to protecting the rights of children involved in conflict, however, this concept failed to address the concept of a child-soldier at the time of World War II.

Furthermore, there was essentially no criminal culpability placed on the child where a breach of jus in bello occurred. [45] No legal limits excluded children being involved in armed conflicts, nor was there any definition of what a child was in relation to their ability to be involved in conflicts.

Changes since World War II Edit

The introduction of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child in 1989 was the first time that any formal commitment was entered into that specified, protected and realised the human rights of a child. [46] This Convention sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children.

Currently, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) defines a child soldier as "any child – boy or girl – under eighteen years of age, who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity". [47] This age limit of 18 is relatively new, only introduced in 2002 under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Prior to 2002, the 1949 Geneva Convention, the 1977 Additional Protocols, and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, all set 15 as the minimum age to participate in armed conflict. [48]

It is a contentious issue whether children should be able to be prosecuted for committing war crimes. [49]

Following the creation of the United Nations in 1945, and subsequent international conventions, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, child rights have been notably asserted and protected. [50] Immediately following World War II, children involved in armed conflict were not able to be prosecuted, as the legislative instruments did not exist to do so. Currently, international law does not prohibit children in being prosecuted for war crimes they committed, although article 37 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child does limit the punishment a child can receive. This includes "neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age". [51]

Under Article 8(2)(b)(xxvi) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which was adopted in 1998, and came into force in 2002, "Conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into the national armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities" is a war crime. [52]

Under the Paris Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or armed groups, those children accused of war crimes, should primarily be treated as victims and treated in accordance with international law under restorative justice, rehabilitation that is consistent child protection treaties and principles. [53]

There were some cases from World War II, where children were prosecuted of war crimes for actions undertaken during the war. Two 15-year-old ex-Hitler Youth were convicted of violating laws of war, by being party to a shooting of a prisoner of war. The youths' age was a mitigating factor in their sentencing. [54]


6. Thomas Custer

Thomas Custer is less widely known than his flamboyant and controversial older brother, George Armstrong Custer. Thomas joined the Union Army in 1861 at the age of 16, entering the ranks as a private of volunteers. By the end of the war less than four years later, Thomas held the rank of brevet (temporary) Lieutenant Colonel of the 6 th Michigan Cavalry. He was also the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor twice . The first award came after Thomas personally captured the regimental standard of the Second North Carolina Cavalry, as well as three officers and 11 enlisted men. He captured the confederates single-handedly.

The second Medal of Honor came after Thomas captured another regimental standard after being shot in the jaw, covering him in blood. When he returned with the standard to his own lines his brother George, whom he served as an aide, ordered him to report to the surgeon. Thomas refused and George had his brother placed under arrest and escorted to the rear. Following the Civil War, Thomas continued to serve with his brother on the plains, and died with him at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in June 1876. Another brother, Boston Custer, died in the same fight, as did several other relatives of the Custer family. George Armstrong Custer gained lasting fame, though his younger brother distinguished himself throughout his largely forgotten career.


Tell: An Intimate History of Gay Men in the Military

On a day to come very soon—September 20, 2011—a serviceman’s sexuality will no longer be grounds for dismissal from the U.S. Armed forces. These are the voices explaining what it has been like to be a gay man1 in the American military over the previous seventy or so years, from World War II veterans in their late eighties to young servicemen on active duty.

1. Life Today as a Gay Serviceman

How we got here: In 1992, many people thought that the discrimination was nearly over. "I remember being in the Castro," says John Forrett (army reserve, 1987–99), "and watching the TV at a bar with some friends, watching Al Gore and Bill Clinton swearing that if they became the tag team for America they were going to get rid of the harassment of gays and lesbians serving in the military." But when the tag team prevailed, they underestimated the resistance to such a reform from a coalition of social conservatives, religious groups, and a large part of the military itself. The consequence, the following year, was a messy kind of compromise that became colloquially known as "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." Gay people were allowed in the military but only as long as they didn’t reveal their sexuality to facilitate this, all members of the military were also prohibited from inquiring about anyone’s possible orientation. This was presented as a kind of victory for the forces of progress—you were no longer excluded from serving—but it could instead be seen as solidifying discrimination. Gay people were only acceptable, in effect, to the degree to which they could successfully masquerade as nongay. Still, the whispered message from Clinton and Gore seemed to be that this was only a temporary stopgap while the nervous military took a large deep breath: Trust us, they seemed to imply. We’ll be there soon.

It took seventeen years. Seventeen years in which gay servicemen have existed in a paradoxical kind of netherworld. Even when it worked as it was supposed to, it was a very weird way to ask anyone to live.

The moment last December when President Obama signed the bill repealing "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" only marked the start of a period of training and preparation leading up to the final removal of the policy. Servicemen were advised that until then the policy would still apply, and that they could potentially face its sanctions if they identify themselves publicly as gay. That is why the active service personnel interviewed here—whom I met with off base across America and in England or communicated with electronically in Afghanistan—are only referred to anonymously.

Air Force #1 (lieutenant colonel, eighteen years of service): "It’s always in the back of my mind. Even as private as you try to keep, you may slip up. Someone may find a Facebook post. See you out and about. So frustrating because, if it happened, there was no ability to assume that your record stood for itself. All of a sudden there was this mystical discovery that made your record go into the trash."

Navy #1 (lieutenant, fourteen years): "There’s always been a fear that people would find out and then hold it over you for some kind of leverage. I have seen it happen: ’If you don’t do this, I’m going to report you.’ "

Air Force #1: "Two of my friends were discovered, both officers—it’s a long and arduous process for an officer to get kicked out for being gay. For an enlisted member, it takes about five days. Paperwork is much easier. It’s really just ’You do not meet standards.’ Within five days, out the door."

Air Force #2 (senior airman, three years): "No one at my job would ever, ever suspect that I was gay at all. I talk about Sam, I even say ’Sam’ at work, ’I’m meeting Sam, we’re going to do this and that,’ and they’re like, ’Oh yeah, how’s she been?’ The worst part is when they start asking me about our sex life and I have to make shit up. But I’m ’That’s the woman I’m going to marry, so I’m not cool with you guys talking about my wife like that,’ and everybody goes, ’Yeah, you’re right.’ "

Marines #1 (major, fourteen years): "I’m older, I’m single, and I don’t talk about a girlfriend. I don’t what we call ’gender fuck,’ don’t do any of that. So I always feel like there is a bright light shining on me."

Marines #2 (captain, nine years): "Part of what has really allowed me to hide in plain sight is the fact that I don’t meet the stereotype. And you’re good at your job—a gay person wouldn’t be good at his job, so obviously you’re not gay. You’re a Marine, you don’t mind getting dirty, going out into the field and not showering for weeks at a time. and, if you were gay, when you have to shower with all these other guys you’d get all excited. You’re not getting excited so you’re clearly not gay. I mean, if you want to hide, the Marine Corps is one of the best places to do that, because nobody wants to admit they are standing next to a gay guy. Nobody wants to admit that they have gone to war with gay people."

Air Force #3 (captain, eleven years): "You can be upset about a lot of things—you can be upset that the law was what it was. But I don’t think you can be upset about your service, because ultimately it was your choice. You know, we’re a volunteer force."

Marines #2: "When I went into the recruiter’s office to sign all the paperwork and we got to ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ I started reading through it, because this was significant to me. I was raised by an attorney—it’s important to know what you’re signing. I had made it about halfway through and the recruiter was frustrated with how long it was taking me, and he said, ’Well, basically, are you gay?’ I hadn’t even joined the military yet, and here he had asked me! If my life had been a movie, that would be the dramatic foreshadowing of what was to come. Of the way it was going to be."

2. One Man’s Operation Iraqi Freedom

Many gay servicemen in the modern era—including Eric Alva (Marines, 1991–2004)—have completed long military careers without their sexuality ever being revealed. And therefore few people realized that the first American seriously wounded in the invasion of Iraq during the second Gulf war was a gay man.

When Alva signed up, before "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," he had to lie on his paperwork. "I knew I was lying," he says. "But I loved what I did, I loved my job, and I didn’t want to tell anyone. I said, ’It’s going to be my secret.’ I knew I was not going to be happy in a way, but I knew this was what I wanted." In 2003 he was deployed to the Middle East, and on March 21 he crossed the border from Kuwait. His unit was part of a huge convoy that stopped outside Basra. Alva got out of his Humvee and went to fetch something from the back of the vehicle. "That’s when I triggered the IED. I was awake, my hearing was sort of gone. My hand was covered in blood and part of my index finger was gone. The chaplain was holding my head and I was telling him I didn’t want to die. I was taken off a helicopter in Kuwait—it was estimated that I was only in Iraq about three hours—and carried into surgery. I woke up later and when I looked down I saw that the right side of my sheet was flat. I cried myself asleep, only to wake up hours later and see that it’s true: My leg is gone."

As he recuperated, he learned about his inadvertent status. "I don’t know who designated me to be the first. I was never given a certificate or anything. One-millionth shopper. Now I have the dubious distinction of being the first American injured when the war started. It didn’t make it better or worse. I mean, my life was changed forever. I was angry that my leg was gone. Even when I was still in the hospital, hours would go by so slow, and I actually said to myself: ’Who is going to love me now?’ I’d never really experienced dating anyone. ’Who is going to love me now? I’m missing a leg.’ "

1. Lesbians have suffered under the same prohibitions and prejudices and share many of the same experiences, as well as some that are distinct, but this article concentrates on the experience of gay men.

Meanwhile, the media picked up on his story. He went on Oprah. People magazine gave him an award. But nobody thought to pry too deeply into his personal life. After the attention died down, his post-military world began to take shape. He went back to college he did find a boyfriend. And when, in 2006, the battles over "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" in the military and gay marriage in the wider community were simmering, Alva’s boyfriend at the time pointed out to him that he did have some notoriety that might be of use. "I finally said, you know what, I’m going to tell my story. The first American injured in the Iraq war is a gay Marine. He wanted to give his life to this country."

3. Invisible Partners

It is often difficult enough for straight men and women to balance the demands of a military career—the extended periods away, the risks involved—with that of a romantic life. For gay military members who choose to do so, there has been the extra burden that their partners must remain invisible. In one of the meetings I hold with active military men, three meet me in a chain restaurant. (These meetings have been arranged through a private online network called OutServe, set up only last year, which allows gay and lesbian servicepeople a safe and secure way of finding and communicating with one another.) This evening, two arrive with their boyfriends. One of the boyfriends tells me how difficult it was when his partner was recently in Afghanistan. "If something happened," he points out, "I wouldn’t have got a phone call. I would have known nothing about it at all. If he didn’t call for two days, I was freaking out." While sitting here with me, the couples often hold hands under the table, but they are also ever watchful of the restaurant door in case someone from their base walks in. To be in the military and still try to live any kind of life as a gay man, it’s not easy.

Air Force #4 (senior airman, four years): "Right now our relationships don’t exist."

Air Force #3: "I’ve had three deployments [while] with the same person. Every time it’s been ’All right, see you later.’ All the spouses get together, do stuff. He’s just there by himself, fending for himself."

Marines #2: "The relationship lasted for about four years, but I always felt like I was disrespecting him, to have to pretend he didn’t exist when I went to work. When I got deployed, he was there with my family when I left. It kind of sucked—to shake his hand and a little pat on the back and ’I’ll see you when I see you’ kind of thing. And when you’re getting ready to come back, the spouses were getting classes—here’s how you welcome your Marine back into the family—and my boyfriend didn’t get any of that. I had a really hard time adjusting to being home. We tried to make it work for a year but he was getting more and more paranoid about people finding out about us. It killed me that he felt that way because of me. I don’t think we ever really had a chance, ultimately."

Air Force #3: "When I was deployed, every Sunday we would sit down on opposite sides of the world and we would each order a pizza and we would watch a movie together over Skype. We weren’t doing anything bad except trying to spend some time together. But there was no ’I love you.’ Certainly nothing sexual, or anything like what some straight guys do over Skype."

Navy #2 (captain, twenty years): "Personally, I haven’t had a lot of struggles. The hardest thing that I faced was about eight years ago. I was dating somebody for about two years who had gotten out of the army. He was HIV positive, and I didn’t know that, and he ended up dying—it just happened very quickly. I am not positive, luckily. So I had a lot of difficulties grasping with that personally, dealing with his death, and I had to take time off work, but still not tell them. I couldn’t go to the doctor or the psychologist. There wasn’t really anybody to talk to."

Army #1 (lieutenant colonel, seventeen years): "I met my boyfriend in ’97. We’ve been together ever since. This will be our fourteenth year. It’s worked out. Honestly, while I’m certainly happy to see its demise, I’ve never had a ’close call’ or any significant hardships serving under DADT."

Navy #2: "I take my boyfriend to the commissary and to the grocery store on base, and it’s always an interesting dynamic when I see people that I know. Just doing the same thing that every other couple is doing—buying Wheaties and milk and yogurt and dog food."

Air Force #2: "As soon as we see someone, we always split in separate directions. Even going to the movies, I go and line up at one end of the line and he is at the other end of the line."

Navy #2: "My boyfriend is not in the military. In fact, he’s left of Che Guevara in his social viewpoint. And he thinks it is just all great fun and he’s corrupting the military. I think it’s funny, because he’s not changing me. Just today we put down money on a house that we’re buying together and, now I’m retirement-eligible, that’s part of what’s buying this nice house. [laughs] So, as much as he thinks he’s corrupting the moral fabric of military society, he’s actually sucking off the teat of Uncle Sugar."

4. One Man’s Tale of Life Under "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell"

Silence can protect, but it can also provide a potent and despicable weapon. In the shadow of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," whenever gay servicemen did face any kind of homophobic harassment, they were powerless to draw attention to it without potentially triggering the end of their military career. The rule itself became the very tool of their oppression: "The ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy," says Joseph Rocha (navy, 2004–7), "punishes homosexuals who comply, and it protects bigots."

Before his own experience turned ugly, Rocha was exactly the kind of idealistic, motivated recruit the military must wish for. He signed the paperwork on his eighteenth birthday, and eventually applied to join a K-9 unit in Bahrain, training to be a dog handler. "I just got caught up in this little unit with no oversight, with a history of corruption and a history of abuse and harassment and hazing, and I didn’t survive it. It was a boys’ club—they liked to gamble, they liked to drink, they liked to smoke, and there was a large aspect of the solicitation of prostitution. None of these things appeal to me—one, because my mother was a drug addict two, because I had a Catholic upbringing. Nothing to do with the fact that I was gay. But when you get caught up in these little groups of boys, the first excuse for anything that doesn’t fit in with them is that you’re gay. And I had too much pride to say that I wasn’t gay. I felt that I deserved to not have to answer that question. So then all I did was make it worse for myself, in that it became a curiosity that was insatiable for them. I think my downfall was the fact I didn’t stand up for myself. but how would I have?"

The harassment grew worse. Of a number of escalating events—Rocha was also force-fed dog food and locked into a shit-filled dog kennel—the most abusive and explicitly homophobic was when he was ordered by his commander to act in a dog-training scenario, repeated over and over so that every dog in the unit could be run through it. "The scenarios were supposed to be relevant to what the dogs or the handlers would experience. Like a domestic dispute, or an armed individual who has been spotted on the base, or someone strapped with explosives. This day he chose that the scenario would be that I would be getting caught giving another service member a blow job and, once the dogs came in, I was supposed to jump up from having been in between this guy’s legs. He would coach as to how exactly he wanted it played out, which was the sickest part of it." Rocha says he had to act this out between half a dozen and a dozen times, about fifteen to twenty minutes each time. As they repeated it, his commander ordered Rocha to make the scenario more extreme. "He wanted me to be very queer and flamboyant. He wanted me to pretend like there was stuff on my face. Loving it so much that each scenario was gayer and more disgusting—the introduction of fake semen, that I would have to wipe my face, or that I would have to make slurping noises. The level of humiliation I experienced that day, that’s when I knew I wasn’t safe in the military."

Nonetheless, Rocha chose to say nothing about what had happened. "There’s this self-righteous and cocky attitude that if it was really so bad then I would have reported it. Anyone who gets off thinking that in ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ under the Bush administration anyone could have gone and said, ’Hey, I’m being antagonized under the principle that I might be gay’ and feel safe is absurd." Eventually these events—details of which are still disputed by other participants—came to light in a broader investigation in its aftermath one of the senior officers being held responsible—a woman who happened to be Rocha’s best friend in the unit—committed suicide. Rocha’s sexuality was not exposed, and he was subsequently admitted into the Naval Academy Preparatory School. There he reluctantly decided that he was no longer prepared to live with the fear of being discovered: "In order for you to be protected by ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ it would require such a level of deceit and deception and such a removal of everything that is beautiful in your life—of relationships, of meaning, of friendships. You would have to have no gay friends, no friends that knew you were gay, no friends who understood what it was like to be you. That’s not human and shouldn’t be asked of anyone, especially not of our service members."

Following full repeal, Rocha intends to rejoin. "I’m lucky," he notes, "because a lot of people whose lives and careers were ruined by ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ don’t have that opportunity anymore. I just can’t wait to be in uniform again."

5. Life Seventy Years Ago as a Gay Serviceman: World War II

It was only really around the Second World War that military discrimination became codified and organized, and that the focus moved from simply sanctions against homosexual acts to an attempt to identify and weed out homosexual tendencies—though, as would be seen again and again, when fighting bodies were needed badly enough, such concerns would often evaporate. Here, as over the years, people’s experiences vary greatly one of the pernicious aspects of prejudice is that it is often applied, or not applied, in such an arbitrary manner.

Arch Wilson,2** 87:** "We’re going back a hell of a long way. I was 19 then. The myth was, if you volunteered instead of waiting to be drafted, you would be treated better. Well, that was false. I do have to thank the military for tearing me out of the typical hometown setting where I would have been trapped in Scranton, Pennsylvania. If I had stayed there, I would have had to get married like everybody there, and it would have been a disaster. I would have been crushed. No space for homosexuals back then. It was something to be ashamed of and hide."

Jack Strouss, 88: "We had heard about these very frightening psychiatrists who were going to grill you. We thought they were the all-seeing people. So we were a little apprehensive. But it certainly didn’t happen that way. I was called in, and there was a man sitting behind this desk, and he pulled down his glasses and looked at me, and the only thing he said to me was ’Do you like girls?’ I said, ’Oh yes. And I love to dance.’ And he looked over at the door and said, ’Next!’ "

John McNeill, 85: "They were in desperate need of more cannon fodder—they didn’t care whether we were gay or straight."

AW: "In January ’45, the Belgian Bulge occurred, and American troops, Patton’s Third Army, were slaughtered, and the army decided: We don’t need any more hot pilots, we need more infantry, so I did go overseas as an infantry rifle replacement in the spring. This man tried to rape me on the troop ship between Boston and Le Havre. I was small and I was cute—who wasn’t cute at 19, 20?—and he was a big, horny guy. I was afraid to scream, because people would wonder, ’Why was he after you?’ I was afraid I had it coming to me because I was made that way."

Edward Zasadil, 86: "I was not revealing my gayness to anybody. I did have one or two incidents, but no one noticed it. We were in two-man tents, a good-looking fellow from another platoon was bunked with me, and I woke up at night, finding he was playing with my penis. And we did that every night after that. It was taking a chance. But all in all I just kept everything very straight. There were the usual nasty remarks about gay people—’homos’ and whatnot. But I passed it off. All my life. Acted as straight as possible. Listen, my life was a pretense the whole time."3

JM: "Many of us were in army divisions primarily composed of 17- and 18-year-olds. We tended to be intellectuals, who don’t make good soldiers. We were sent into combat right at the Battle of the Bulge—I was with the 87th Infantry Division and we were the first in the Alsace-Lorraine to cross the border into Germany. And the Germans counterattacked with Tiger tanks and the whole group was either killed or captured. I ended up a prisoner of war within two weeks of arriving at the front. We were literally starved—I went down to about eighty pounds. All we could think of was where the next meal was going to come from. The drive for survival greatly outweighs the drive for sexual fulfillment—under those circumstances, this is not an issue. As soon as I got back and started eating well, the problem was back again."

AW: "In this boxcar going overnight from France to Germany, May of ’45, I had a little romance with a married man next to me. Oh, that was a kick. There we were, sleeping on straw. Absolutely no lights. We wound up next to each other. And it was just easy, it was natural. That was it. Troops that pass in the night. In the morning we opened the boxcar doors and we were in Germany, and very quickly the word came to us that Germany had that morning surrendered. Wow, can you imagine the exhilaration in that boxcar? A day earlier, I could have become a statistic. We were flown out to the Philippines to form a new army to invade Japan. Well, timing. The day my plane landed in Manila, the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb. We didn’t have to invade. We were brought home, sent to a big camp in North Carolina. In the rec center, the men’s room was so busy—big glory holes in the toilet partitions. Play out in these vast fields at night. Everybody was just waiting to be discharged, so lots of people were taking chances. It just happened, it was spontaneous. Just because: Mission Accomplished."

JM: "I found out right after the war that if someone were discharged as homosexual, a notice of that fact was sent home to their local draft board, so that their whole community would come to know that they were gay. And this led indirectly to the formation of gay ghettos in the major cities, where people who couldn’t go home, because their sexuality had been revealed by the army, had to move into Greenwich Village or the San Francisco Castro. This was the beginning of the huge gay communities in the major cities."

6. An Out American Soldier at War

If sometimes "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" has been compromised by persistent asking, then, as Darren Manzella (army, 2002–8) discovered, there have been other times when, curiously, the military shut their ears to what they’d been told.

"I finally accepted that I was gay the first time I went to Iraq in 2004. We were being hit by mortars and rockets every day, we had car bombs going off. A friend of mine was killed the fourth day we were there. That experience made me come out to myself and accept it." It was when he returned to Texas from his tour of duty that the problems started. "I started getting e-mails harassing me, getting phone calls at work. Finally my supervisor said he could tell something was wrong, and I told him: ’I’m getting these e-mails, I have a boyfriend in Austin, and I don’t know what to do anymore—I need some guidance here.’ He was very understanding at first. He said, ’Okay, take the rest of the afternoon off, go home, and we’ll see you tomorrow morning.’ After I left, he went to the legal department and turned me in."

2. Sadly, Wilson passed away in July, just before this article went to press.

3. Zasadil did not come out until the age of 80.

This was the summer of 2006. From here, Manzella’s case was supposed to follow a well-established one-way path under "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" that would lead to his inevitable discharge. But that is not what happened. Manzella cooperated fully with the investigation when he was asked for evidence that he wasn’t just claiming to be gay in order to trigger a discharge, he even supplied photos, and footage of him and his boyfriend passionately kissing on a road trip. A month later he was called in to see his battalion commander and told that the investigation had been closed: "His words were ’We found no proof of homosexuality.’ " While wary of putting further words in the commander’s mouth, Manzella felt what was clearly being communicated was: You’re a good soldier. We don’t want to lose you. Manzella was puzzled. "It doesn’t make sense, but in my mind I was able to stay in the military and keep serving my country."

As far as he was concerned, this meant that he no longer had to hide his sexuality, and in an era when no such category of person was supposed to exist, he started to live as an out soldier in the U.S. military. When he returned to Iraq, it was on that basis. "I was open, and my colleagues knew and my bosses knew. The generals knew. I looked at everybody else’s desks and they had pictures of their wives, husbands, or boyfriends or girlfriends, so I had pictures of my boyfriend up."

While he was deployed, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a campaigning group who had been giving him guidance, told him that 60 Minutes wanted to do a piece about an openly gay man serving in a combat zone, persuading him that it would give a voice to the "65,000 men and women in the military" who weren’t able to live as openly as he was. Even after the interview aired in December 2007, the military took another four months to decide. This time it was agreed that he would leave with an honorable discharge. "I met people who have horror stories. I was very lucky at every step."

7. A Report from a Trailer Park in the Desert

Just before 10 a.m. each weekday morning in a Desert Hot Springs trailer park in California, a few old men gather to watch The Price Is Right. I first came here a day earlier to find Chuck Schoen, an 86-year-old veteran slowed down just a little by his Parkinson’s, but after I arrived he asked whether I would like to speak to anyone else. I was confused until it became clear that, partly by chance and partly by a chain of personal recommendations over the years, this trailer park had become some kind of gay-veteran hot spot: There are eight or ten others living here, and more nearby. And some of them like to gather in the trailer shared by Schoen and his partner of forty-two years, fellow veteran Jack Harris, for this morning ritual.

Though I’m forewarned when I arrive this morning that "we all suffer from CRS—Can’t Remember Shit," most of these trailer-park veterans remember plenty. They had very different experiences, too. David Schneider, for instance, served in the navy until 1980 doing aircraft maintenance, retiring with a pension after twenty years of being secretive and careful. He says that he didn’t seek promotion past a certain point because it would have required an investigation to get him clearance, and he was concerned they would discover his subscriptions to gay magazines. He avoided gay bars because he was worried about undercover agents and so would use prostitutes and hustlers instead. When he had a relationship with someone for three years, he never told his partner he was in the navy. "He figured it out, but that’s how paranoid I was." Right toward the end of his service, he remembers being very tempted by someone he was giving after-hours counseling to at work. "There was a real opportunity. The thing that went through my head: ’Don’t be an idiot and throw it all away.’ I was only six months from retirement. And to this day I am very happy with the decision that I made."

Mel Tips, conversely, seemed to have threaded a path through the military that was the most open and least problematic of any I hear. He says that when he would travel aboard ship after joining the naval reserve in 1949, sexual opportunities were rampant: "They were giving blow jobs in the laundry almost every night. Somebody knocks, they’d let me in, close the door, and there would be a whole roomful just carrying on like mad. I thought it was funny. On the ship going up to Halifax, Nova Scotia, we would sit out on the fantail jacking each other off, watching movies." Tips says he also owned and ran a male go-go bar called The Brig with male strippers on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles. "Remember Sal Mineo? He came to my bar. Oh, and Liberace. He loved to come in and watch my dancers." Even more brazenly, when Tips opened a bar next door, he called it Tips Tavern. "It was advertised in magazines as a gay bar owned by Mel Tips. I never had anybody accuse me or say anything."

But it is Schoen who I had initially come here to see, for his tale seems emblematic of many who fell afoul of the more vindictive scrutiny that became commonplace in the ’50s and ’60s. Schoen joined the navy on July 20, 1942. He was 17. "I knew I was gay, and I knew that they kicked you out in the military," he says. "I don’t know if I gave it any thought." Like many, his chosen path was one of discretion. "Most of them were quiet like me. There were very few who weren’t quiet. Privately I was comfortable with it, but I was never open about it. My success for nineteen years was: The people I was with didn’t know or never said anything, and I never said anything." Whatever sexual activity he engaged in, he waited until he was off the ship. "As a matter of fact, I wasn’t that active sexually. It seemed like it was safer just not getting involved with anybody." Then, in 1953, he met a man at the YMCA, and they were together for seventeen years. "We had a house like this and we lived together. Come home at night and did what we wanted to do. A normal life."

His navy career flourished: "I was in an assembly team for nuclear weapons which took the top-secret clearance." But in 1963, when he was only months away from earning his pension, things went awry. "The commanding officer gave me the message that I was to report to the office of naval intelligence. I thought, ’Oh, it’s them, they’ve got me.’ " They claimed that he had been named as a homosexual and pressured him to confirm the details, showing him photos of other men who were implicated. "Of course, I denied everything they asked me," he says. He has always considered what happened three months later to be entrapment. "An undercover cop, we had a few drinks at the bar and talked and so on. We went upstairs to his hotel room and, after we got started, he pulls a badge out." Another police officer had also been watching from the room next door. That same night, they released him to the navy, and it seemed clear to him that this whole chain of events had been instigated by navy investigators.

"I thought I should commit suicide," he remembers. "I was pretty depressed. You think of so many things." The next day the navy gave him a choice—he could either go through a court martial (it was suggested to him that he could get five years of military prison and hard labor for each offense) or accept an other-than-honorable discharge. So he agreed to the latter, even though he knew he would lose his pension.

Back then, people were yet to raise their voices and suggest that this wasn’t right. The first high-profile legal attack on this system would not come until 1975, when an airman named Leonard Matlovich initiated a long battle in which he managed to highlight many of the system’s absurdities, inconsistencies, and cruelties—most pithily summarized by the quote on his gravestone: "When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one." In Schoen’s era, there were many men like him who, after years of service, were summarily dispensed with. "I don’t ever expect to get a retirement check," he says.

8. One Man’s Vietnam

"Back in the ’50s in Oregon," recalls Tom Norton (Army, 1968-71), "they were still putting people in jail for homosexual activity, and that certainly sends a strong message to a young kid. I realized I was gay when I was 5 years old, and I struggled with it my whole childhood, thinking about suicide. I decided I would join the army, thinking that would change me. Make me a man, so to speak. The day I joined the army was the first I had had a good night’s sleep in as long as I could remember, that I didn’t think about committing suicide.

"I wanted to be a pilot. Again being dumb and naive, when I graduated from flight school I thought, I’ll do the honorable thing and volunteer to be a medevac pilot in Vietnam. I got shot down four times in a month. I was in so much emotional pain over being gay that anything was better than that. I went to Vietnam with post-traumatic stress disorder, which I had had from the age of 5 when I learned the word homosexual and knew that’s what I was. Whatever I experienced in Vietnam was better than that."

Norton wasn’t sexually active in Vietnam—"I would numb myself and avoid anything sexual"—and it was only years later that he realized that some of the men in his social circle there were gay. "A group of enlisted gay men that seemed to be at ease with who they were. They smoked a lot of marijuana, and they would mince heroin in with their cigarette tobacco—that was kind of the drug of choice. Medevac companies, we were treated differently than other military units just because of the danger of our job. Our life expectancy was so short they let us do our own thing. I literally got shot down over twenty times—I stopped counting at twenty. It’s just a miracle, really, that I didn’t get killed."

Norton, who has spent many years recovering, now lives in Portland with his partner, a man who happens to be Vietnamese and grew up there during the war. "It is quite ironic," Norton reflects. "You never know where life is going to lead you. He struggled so much with growing up gay in Vietnam and being ostracized for his sexuality, just wanting to be loved and cared for with the war going on around him. He’s never really asked me about the war, and I’ve never really talked to him about it."

9. Silence or Trust

Many servicemen serving under "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" decided that their only option was literally to tell no one for the length of their military career. Others, inevitably, concluded that the only way to survive was to take some people into their trust. Given the potential implications, the decision of whether—and whom—to trust is an enormous one.


Sad pictures of Child Soldiers in WWII

Wars are always started by the adults, but not only adults take part. War does not spare anyone, so armed kids aren’t a rare occurrence. Sometimes they are orphans, sometimes volunteers or they were simply forced to serve in the army. One thing is certain war often destroyed their future or literally their lives.

Children have often been pressed into conflicts throughout history. They have fought in wars as soldiers, both girls and boys. It was very common in some countries for children to fight in wars, right up into the Twentieth Century.

The recruitment of child soldiers has long been associated with irregular forces and guerrillas however when a country is facing annihilation everybody is obliged to fight.

Here are some gut-wrenching images of kids at war- throughout the twentieth century.

Young Polish resistance fighters in Warsaw during Uprising, Poland, 1944 Chinese boy hired to assist troops of Chinese 39th Division during the Salween Offensive, Yunnan Province, China, 1944 [United States Army Signal Corps/] A Chinese Nationalist soldier, age 10, member of a Chinese division from the X-Force, boarding planes in Burma bound for China, May 1944 Onni Kokko, a Finnish boy soldier, died in 1918 after Battle of Tampere 15-year-old boy soldier of Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism, 1941 [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-141-1291-02 / Momber / CC-BY-SA 3.0] Japanese youth during military training, 1916 Soldier boys who were taken prisoner in the battle of Okinawa, 1945 13-year-old boy soldier, captured by United States Army in Martinszell-Waltenhofen, 1945 [Via] German boy soldier after his capture, Italy, 1944 [Via] Boy soldier from Hitlerjugend, at the age of 16, Berlin, Germany, 1945. Soon after this picture was taken, Soviets entered the city[Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-G0627-500-001 / CC-BY-SA 3.0] Serbian young partisans, Yugoslavia, 1945 B. Mussolini during review of youth organization, Rome, 1940 [Via] Admiral Giulio Graziani and X Flottiglia MAS. The boy on the picture is Franco Grechi. Italy, 1943 [Via] 15-year-old Misha Petrov with captured German MP-38 and Soviet grenade RGD-33 in his boot [Via] Volodya Tarnowski with comrades in Berlin, 1945 [Via] Volodya Tarnowski puts an autograph on a column of Reichstag, Berlin, 1945 [Via] Momčilo Gavrić, Korfu, 1916 Momčilo Gavrić joined Serbian Army at the age of 8, 1914. The youngest soldier in the First World War Lviv Eaglets, young defenders from Polish-Ukrainian War and Polish-Soviet War, 1918-1920 An Iranian child soldier after the Liberation of Khorramshahr These images show that during the twentieth century, kids fought on the front line in all the major conflicts. It is not known how many kids were killed or were maimed for life during these wars.

However, it is not something that is confined to history. Today, there are still children fighting in all the conflicts that are ravaging parts of the world. At present children are taking an active part in wars in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.


Boy Soldiers - History

Queer Civil War buffs have been arguing for some time that the deafening silence around LGBTQ Confederate and Union soldiers indicates proof of their very presence.

During the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War, I went combing through Civil War annals for our queer brethren – and I found them! When shots were fired from Fort Sumter, a fortification near Charleston, S.C., signaling the war’s beginning, its gay Confederate and Union soldiers didn’t have to worry about the modern infamous DADT policy, which blatantly discriminated against gay, lesbian and bisexual servicemembers.

Those soldiers did not have to bear their souls to disprove that military readiness is a heterosexual calling, nor did they have to prove that their patriotism to the cause was diminished because of their sexual orientation.

Some queer Civil War buffs would argue that none were dishonorably discharged – although, there is record of three pairs of Navy sailors court-martialed for “improper and indecent intercourse with each other.” And “unit cohesion,” the big battleground issue during the fight to repeal DADT which posited that the “homosexual gaze” would be the root cause for disruption (which was totally debunked by a 2002 study), was not an issue.

Before DADT, our LGBTQ servicemembers were discharged under “honorable conditions” called “Fraudulent Enlistment.” More than 13,500 military personnel were discharged under DADT, particularly black lesbians, who were discharged at three times the rate at which they serve.

But the question, some would argue, of who were LGBTQ service members and who weren’t in the American Civil War is a disingenuous query since the words “homosexual” and “heterosexual” weren’t part of the American lexicon until thirty years after the war ended.

However, many would also argue that not having a word like “homosexual” back in the day of the Civil War to depict same-sex attraction among soldiers does not negate our use of it to describe them in this present day.

And in combing through Civil War battle records of Confederate and Union soldiers, I find, they were not only slaughtering one another – many were also loving one another.

Learning about same-sex love among soldiers wasn’t Thomas P. Lowry’s focus when he sat out to pen The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War, the first scholarly study of the sex lives of soldiers in the Civil War.

This physician and medical historian reminds me of Alfred Kinsey in his research on human sexuality. Using archival documents such as court-martial and medical records, newspaper articles, pornographic books and cards, and letters and diaries of the soldiers, Lowry’s focus was to address the problem of prostitution – straight and gay – and why both the Union and Confederate Armies had to work to stop sexually transmitted infections from crippling their soldiers, because STIs were costing more in soldier’s health and lives than action on the battlefield.

Chapter 11 of Lowry’s book opens the closet door on gender-bending and same-sex trysts. And Lowry reveals that during the Civil War conventional gender roles and sexual behavior could not be strictly tethered to a heterosexual paradigm. With men outnumbering women, especially at social events like balls, drummer boys – children as young as nine and ten-years-old, dressed in drag. And in some occasions, the intimacy between soldiers and drummer boys reached beyond just a public waltz.

For example, Lowry references a ball put on by a Massachusetts regiment stationed in Virginia in 1864 about young drummer boys dressed as women. One man wrote to his wife: “Some of the real women went, but the boy-girls were so much better looking that they left. …We had some little Drummer Boys dressed up and I’ll bet you could not tell them from girls if you did not know them. …Some of [the Drummer Boys] looked good enough to lay with and I guess some of them did get laid with. …I know I slept with mine.”

History proves that LGBTQ servicemembers have been proudly and openly putting our lives on the line for their countries since antiquity.

The Greeks favored gay and bisexual young men in their military. Since gay and bisexual men were considered a family unit, the Greeks knew that paired male lovers assigned to the same battalions were a military asset. They would fight courageously, side by side, and would die heroically together in battle. Alexander the Great, who was king of Macedonia and noted as one of the greatest military conquerors, was known to be bisexual. When his lover Hephaestion died in battle, Alexander the Great not only mourned openly for his lover, but he staged an extravagant funeral, which took six months to prepare.

Lowry wasn’t the first to write about Confederate and Union soldiers in the Civil War, but he was the first to recognize an LGBT presence in it.


Watch the video: Солдатик, 2018, военный, драма