Friday, April 1, 2011

The Pride of War

The rebels in Libya are in retreat again. Qaddafi’s tanks are bearing down on them. A boy of seventeen has come to fight with the rebels. He has only a knife. When asked how he will fight a tank with a knife, he looks heavenward and says Allah will show him the way. The reporter asks him if his mother knows he is there. She does, he says, smiling. She is proud of him.

I couldn’t help wondering how I would feel if he were my son. Would I be proud that he was going off to die? Would I think his death a necessary step along the way to freedom from tyranny? Instinctively, I think not. Losing a son who is still a boy would be too great a price. But if I were there, if I had lived under that oppression, I think I would feel that boy’s same desperate and reckless passion. I think I would fight. I might even be proud to have my son, even one so young and naive, fight with me. With knives, if that’s all we had.

The interview with that boy warrior was aired on PBS, in a segment in which a man and a woman, both intellectuals, debated whether the United States should arm the Libyan rebels. The man said yes. He said Qaddafi would kill them all otherwise. He said that with such a man there was no chance of a negotiated resolution. Pacifists, he said, think wolves are vegetarians.

The woman was no pacifist. She was from Liberia, where Charles Taylor ruled so ruthlessly. She knew tyranny. But she argued that it was one thing to seek NATO air strikes to protect civilians, and another to give arms to the civilians we are trying to protect. To children. There are uprisings in many Arab countries now. Will we send arms to them? She believes that something closer to a peaceful overthrow of a dictator is possible, a kind of strangulation. We should freeze his assets. Cut off his funding. Without money he could not last.

Both speakers made their cases well. Both were passionate and pragmatic. I don’t have a strong feeling about which one was right in this particular situation, but I do know that child soldiers are not the way forward. We have seen that in other countries in Africa in the past. Are seeing it still. We saw it in China with Mao’s Red Guard. Hitler’s Youth. When children fight the battles of their fathers, the damage is not just to them and those they kill, the greater damage is to the soul of civilization.

War, if it must be fought at all, is for adults.


  1. Sadly, when it comes to controlling natural resources, people - the most precious resource - become dispensable!