The army trucks drive so near
the children at play
they see the men take
their siblings away
Today is Red Hand Day – or the International Day Against the use of Child Soldiers – a U.N. observance to call attention to the use of child soldiers and children in war around the world and as a plea for it to stop. Much attention was paid a few years ago to the use of child soldiers in Uganda in the Lord’s Resistance Army (remember the Kony 2012 social media movement?), but worldwide, the use of children under 18 in military conflicts (both as soldiers and in “support” roles) happens mostly out of sight. Some articles on the U.N. day of observance noted that, although we tend to think of this as a problem of the developing world, historically, minors were used as soldiers in every “western” conflict up through World War II. I’d been struggling to write a short poem about this topic/observance until I read that perspective – it reminded me of Sarah Cleghorn’s poem about child labor, “The Golf Links.”
So with apologizes to Sarah Cleghorn, I modeled my little poem after hers. That historical connection also got me thinking about some common experiences we have here in the U.S. with minors and the military. While the U.S. military doesn’t allow minors to join its ranks any longer, military recruitment in U.S. high schools is routine and at least from my experience when I was in high school, could be rather aggressive. Family stories of a now grandfather or great uncle running away from home at 14 or 15 to join the navy or army are fairly common (I personally know of a few) and become part of a family’s origin story. It reminded me that the history of children (minors) in the military is not as distant in developed nations as we might like to think.
Red Hand Day website in English: https://www.redhandday.org/en/