Child warriors

Israeli girls painting “greetings” to Lebanon on artillery shells, and other abuses.

Coming across the accusation that during the latest Lebanon war young Israeli girls had painted “greetings” on artillery shells, I naturally assumed it was a typical anti-semitic fabrication of the Arab press (random sample). What sane soldier of any persuasion would allow a bunch of kids within a mile of heavy ordnance during combat? Apparently I was wrong. (Question to experts: are the green fuses live or dummies?)

Is this morally equivalent to this (from here), or this? If we’re talking about propaganda and indoctrination, roughly yes; independently of the justice of the causes. The use of children in actual fighting or terrorism is naturally worse.

The exploitation of children for war, from propaganda to killing, may be one domain in which the enlightened twenty-first century exceeds the infamous age of the dictators in depravity. Did Franco, Hitler or Stalin do similar things? In 1945 Hitler Jugend boys were thrown into battle, following the Polish boys of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, but only as a measure of desperation. For the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, enslaved child soldiers are the recruits of choice.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

11 thoughts on “Child warriors”

  1. Lisa Goldman, a leftish Israeli, wrote about the photo and how it came about at some length on her blog. The post is here: "Putting things in perspective:"… .
    She spoke with the photographer who took the picture and a reporter on the scene. You might want to read the whole post to pick up the context, but this is the core of the story Lisa Goldman tells:
    "On the day that photo was taken, the girls had emerged from the underground bomb shelters for the first time in five days. A new army unit had just arrived in the town and was preparing to shell the area across the border. The unit attracted the attention of twelve photojournalists – Israeli and foreign. The girls and their families gathered around to check out the big attraction in the small town – foreigners. They were relieved and probably a little giddy at being outside in the fresh air for the first time in days. They were probably happy to talk to people. And they enjoyed the attention of the photographers.
    "Apparently one or some of the parents wrote messages in Hebrew and English on the tank shells to Nasrallah. "To Nasrallah with love," they wrote to the man whose name was for them a devilish image on television – the man who mockingly told Israelis, via speeches that were broadcast on Al Manar and Israeli television, that Hezbollah was preparing to launch even more missiles at them. That he was happy they were suffering.
    "The photograpers gathered around. Twelve of them. Do you know how many that is? It's a lot. And they were all simultaneously leaning in with their long camera lenses, clicking the shutter over and over. The parents handed the markers to the kids and they drew little Israeli flags on the shells. Photographers look for striking images, and what is more striking than pretty, innocent little girls contrasted with the ugliness of war? The camera shutters clicked away, and I guess those kids must have felt like stars, especially since the diversion came after they'd been alternately bored and terrified as they waited out the shelling in their bomb shelters."
    As I said, it's worth reading the whole post. I would say "make of this what you will," but of course people always make of things what they will.

  2. The 12th SS Panzer Division, the 'Hitler Youth' division, started fighting in Normandy in June 1944.

  3. I agree completely that it was wrong to inject inappropriate festivity into the grim business of warfare, and even more wrong to involve children in the exercise.
    But for pity's sake, are you seriously lumping together this one obscure incident with the routine, government-sponsored promotion of child martyrdom in the West Bank and Gaza–not to mention the LRA in Uganda? A little perspective is in order, I think….

  4. It took you eight sentences to get to an implicit comparison of Israelis and Nazis. Too slow. You can get it down to a sentence and a half if you work on it.

  5. JR and Larry Birnbaum seem awfully eager to take offense. Note that James carefully mentioned that the Warsaw resistance used children as fighters before (so he says) the Nazis did. So it's at best a half-truth (I'd estimate it as about a 1%-truth) that his post somehow compared the Israelis to the Nazis. Given the context as explicated by Stuart, I don't find much to disapprove of in the actions reported, but I do wish some of our guests were as thoughtful and restrained in discussing the Middle East situation as James and Jonathan, from different perspectives, manage to be.

  6. at,
    The question is where do the associations come from (and where don't they), not just what arguments they get worked into. How on earth does this event get chosen out of the universe of observations to be taken, and how on earth does it wind its way, somehow, to talking about the Hitler Youth? And how does it fail, somehow, to mention the most grotesque image of this sort that would come naturally to most minds?
    I want to make two things clear. First, letting your kids do something like this is really unacceptable, and at the very least I would expect the IDF to be more professional in preventing this sort of thing from taking place.
    Second, I don't think Mr. Wimberly is a bad person. He needs to reflect on why certain associations occur to him, and certain other ones don't. We all do.
    By the way I take the presence of articles about this sad spectacle in the Arab press to be a positive sign. Certainly the writers and readers know well that this kind of thing, and much worse, has taken place regularly in the Arab world. So this has to be taken as a kind of, "see, you do this bad thing too" message. But that at least begins the acknowledgment that it's a bad thing.

  7. Israeli children and their parents are blameless, holy creatures. Palistinians, Lebanese, and Nazi children and their parents are evil.
    What don't you understand about that?

  8. Stuart: thanks for the link and context. I take your point that the incident was a local initiative by irresponsible parents and not the result of any wider policy of indoctrination. But the damage is done. What were the IDF artillerymen doing allowing it? Is there a plan to prevent any recurrence?
    "American citizen": according to its Wikipedia entry, the 12th SS Panzer Division was formed in 1943-44, made up "of all Hitler Jugend members born in 1926", so its soldiers in Normandy would have been 18, i.e. young adults of standard age for many armed forces. I was talking about the teenage units in the hopeless defence of Berlin in April 1945. The Nazis also abandoned their war-losing insistence on keeping women out of factories very late in the day.
    I stated in in my post that there is a moral distinction between the exploitation of children for propaganda and indoctrination, and in actual fighting (or terrorism), which Israel does not engage in; nor SFIK does Hezbollah.

  9. What damage has been done, exactly? These girls aren't dressed up as soldiers. They aren't pretending to be soldiers. They aren't being put at risk, no one moves artillery rounds around with live fuses in them. Even if they did, it's certainly less risk than they're being put in by people shooting rockets at their town.
    People with irrational hatreds of Israel still hate it, people without don't care… I truly don't see what the harm is.

  10. "What damage has been done, exactly? These girls aren't dressed up as soldiers. They aren't pretending to be soldiers. They aren't being put at risk, no one moves artillery rounds around with live fuses in them. Even if they did, it's certainly less risk than they're being put in by people shooting rockets at their town."
    Let's abstract away the fact that this happened in Israel. Let's assume it is the U.S., or Canada, involved in some conflict, and is taking pictures of little girls writing creepy messages on shells.
    You don't see a problem?

  11. Hey, Ishmael! Yeah, you, turd-face!
    We've got a message for you, straight from the Angel Moroni:

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