April 27, 2007:
Fearing a media mauling, the
Department of Defense has ordered that no troops younger than 18 can deploy to
a combat zone. For a long time, it's been possible to enlist at age 17, and be
through basic and advanced training quickly enough to hit combat before you
turn 18. The UN, however, has declared
teenage soldiers, or at least those under 18, to be a crime against
Blame it all on cheap AK-47s. The end of the Cold
War has brought millions of cheap AK-47s to Africa. This has increased the
death toll, as assault rifles can kill a lot more people than the traditional
spears and bows. Indeed, previously only experienced hunters went to war,
because it was up close, personal and
very physical. Muscle mattered. You had to be tough, experienced and brave.
With AK-47s, any kid can become a bad ass, blasting away from a distance. Where
in the past women and children were generally spared, now they are the first
victims of the AK-47 armed teenagers.
The ten pound AK-47 could be handled by nine and
ten year old kids, and children this young were easily manipulated by older
men. But the UN got caught up in its own politically correct atmosphere and
when it declared anyone under age 18 a "child," and included them in its
campaign against the use of "child soldiers." This became a PR problem for
nations like Britain and the U.S., whose all-volunteer militaries typically
enlist 17 year olds (to accommodate recent high school grads).
The "17 year old guys are children" thing also
ignores the past. Throughout history, teenagers have made up a large segment of
the battlefield population. Most of the older guys would stay home to tend the
wife and kids. This was a purely practical matter, as one missed harvest could
kill off everyone. For the teenage guys, war was a rite of passage and form of
population control. In many cultures, many female infants were killed for the
same reason, but battle was seen as a suitable way of deciding which males were
fit to breed.
The U.S. has about 1,200 17 year olds in uniform.
The "no 17 year olds in combat" rule keeps a few hundred of them out of combat
zones. There, the casualty rate for support troops (the majority) is about one
percent per 12 month tour. For combat troops, its closer to ten percent. The
average casualty (dead and wounded) rate is about four percent. So the new rule
means that about a dozen 17 year old troops will not become casualties each
year. Since the shortest term of enlistment is three years, those 17 year olds
will have to wait a year to take their chances in combat.
Grabbing cheap headlines at the expense of 17 year
old American and British soldiers does nothing for eleven year old Congolese
kids shooting at each other. But it makes some people feel better, and that
must mean something.