Weekly Defense Monitor| Volume
2, Issue No.12
March 26, 1998
As so often happens in human events, there is this week a tragic and
bitter juxtaposition between two seemingly unrelated events in
widely separated places: the President’s 11 day visit to Africa and
the most recent instance of multiple murders involving children.
The President flew into Kigali, Rwanda to spend three hours at
the airport with the leaders of that ethnic war torn nation in which
over half a million people, mostly Tutsis, were slaughtered by
Hutus. The world in general and the U.S. in particular, said the
President, were too slow to recognize the carnage that engulfed
Rwanda and too slow to react to stop it from spreading. But the
warning signs were there and had been present for some time. Indeed,
the head of the UN mission in Rwanda has testified before the
International Court that with 5,000 trained soldiers and an
appropriate mandate he could have prevented thousands of deaths.
Mr. Clinton also visited Uganda where, along with seven African
heads of state, he pledged to help find remedies for many of
Africa’s ills. Uganda itself is still in the grip of a civil war in
its north where a rebel group called Lord’s Army operates. One of
its major tactics is the abduction and impressment of children and
adolescents into its ranks as fighters. In many rural areas the
government is unable to protect villages from these marauders. The
result is a generation, or part of a generation, taught to fight, to
kill or be killed (for the children are told they will die if they
do not kill).
Rwanda and Uganda are not the only ones facing the problems of a
society that finds children deeply enmeshed in the culture of
violence and guns. Burundi and Zaire, Congo, Angola, and Sierra
Leone are other African nations which are struggling to overcome the
same militarism. And one could point to other third world nations on
other continents struggling to resensitize themselves to the horrors
of war and genocide.
It is at this point that this week’s tragedy in Jonesboro,
Arkansas comes into focus. We as a society tolerate and even
encourage an aura of militarism that, prima facie, is an
encouragement to use guns and other forms of violence to "solve"
As a society we also provide the means to enact violence.
Pictures in major American newspapers show one of the two children
in custody in connection with the Arkansas killings aiming a weapon
as a small child. Such exposure and obvious approval by adults is
the type of subtle encouragement toward violence that can later lead
to child soldiers in Africa and more Jonesboros.
Such seeds of destruction do not, of course, have to turn into
reality. But the love of guns and things military continues as
children grow up in our society. Quasi-military organizations for
youths, such as the "Young Marines," include a "chain of command,"
"boot camp," marching, uniforms, and "inspections." These
organizations are allowed because they are seen as ways to occupy
children, to socialize them, to teach them discipline. There is
merit in each of these points, but why suddenly is there involvement
of the military and a military aura associated with these goals? For
decades there have been non-military programs and organizations
dedicated to instilling these societal "virtues."
Many communities compound the problem by allowing JROTC - Junior
Reserve Officer Training Corps - in their high schools, a program
administered out of the Pentagon and staffed by retired military
personnel. Military history as a separate subject from other
history, "survival" skills such as cross country navigation,
marching, uniforms, inspections, a chain-of-command are all present.
Some programs go so far as to include marksmanship training. All
this, again, is done in the name of discipline, occupying time,
teaching "skills." But one might legitimately enquire: For what
purpose in civilian life? Why must military training be part of this
In a population of over 270 million, the tragedy in Arkansas may
be an "aberration." It is true in every case that curing violence,
at any age, is a challenge that must focus on violent and
violence-prone individuals. But the culture of violence in which
those so inclined act out their predilection is a societal problem
and one that only the society at large can address and begin to
To ignore the problem simply will increase the peril to our
nation and our children. The 1997 Morbidity and Mortality Report
says that among children under 15 in the United States, the death
rate from firearms was twelve times higher than among the next 25
industrialized countries combined.
Just like Rwanda, Uganda, and other African nations, we have our
own "army" of child soldiers right here - and we are acting too
slowly to stop it from growing every year.