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Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go To War
Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go To War
Jimmie Briggs
Basic Books, 2005
216 pp., $24.95

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Child Soldiers in Africa (The Ethnography of Political Violence)
Child Soldiers in Africa (The Ethnography of Political Violence)
Alcinda Honwana
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007
216 pp., $24.95

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Child Soldiers: From Violence to Protection
Child Soldiers: From Violence to Protection
Michael Wessells
Harvard University Press, 2007
302 pp., $54.50

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Tim Stafford


A New Kind of War

Child soldiers.

"After four months of training they put me to a test. They put a person before me and ordered me to shoot him. I shot him. After the test they considered me good and they gave me a gun."
—from Child Soldiers in Africa, by Alcinda Honwana

"We were told that when we came out, the government would kill us. They created a lot of fear. Those who tried to escape were battered to death. I saw at least fourteen receive this fate. When I was abducted, I was a very young girl, so they gave me to a man who made me his wife. After that, I was a woman."
—from Innocents Lost, by Jimmie Briggs

The black-and-white cover photo of Jimmie Briggs' book, Innocents Lost, shows a boy starting up on his bicycle. We are in a rural area somewhere: a dirt road fringed with high grass and brush. The boy has the bike pointing away from us; we cannot see his face. His boots are caked with mud, as is his bike, which shows signs of makeshift repairs.

The bike is too big for the boy. We can see from the angle of his body that getting up on the seat without toppling over will take concentration. And yet, he will do it. He shows by the taut determination in his limbs that he is determined to do it, even if it takes several tries.

This portrait of childhood captures at once its solitude and its ambitions: to ride a bike, to go freely somewhere of my choosing, and to master mechanical tools. Only one detail prevents us from falling into a reverie of youthful past: the boy has an AK-47 slung over his shoulder.

Children have always gone to war. Alcinda Honwana mentions the Children's Crusades of 1212, the armies of Napoleon, and the British navy under Lord Nelson, which had "many naval cadets and midshipmen of fifteen, as well as younger cabin boys and 'powder monkeys.'" Nevertheless, our age uses unprecedented numbers of very young children in wars of unbelievable savagery. Militias are often more like ghetto gangs than traditional armies with their rigid discipline and ethical limits. Honwana ...

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