Compare and Contrast - Part 1

I read several articles at the NY Times site Monday which resonated together in my mind for a couple of reasons. I explore those connections in this post and two to follow.

This article in last Friday's Times describes, "A new period of life (which) is emerging in which young people are no longer adolescents but not yet adults”. That would be here in the U.S., where more middle-class twenty-somethings are continuing their education, putting off marriage and child-rearing (if they intend to do either), and being supported, at least in part, by their parents while doing so.

There's another article in Sunday's Times about the path from childhood to adult responsibilities. This route is considerably shorter. It is, however, also being sponsored in part by the same USian baby boomers who are helping to support their own progeny's extended, and very different, journey. Children as young as nine have been enlisted in the military forces of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government, a government which the United States has chosen to support as part of its — oh, we're not calling it a War on Terror, anymore, are we? That was so unsophisticated, so Bush league.

Nevertheless, the Obama administration, not limiting itself to pursuing terrorists through Intelligence and Criminal Justice channels, continues to vigorously pursue the policing of the world, deciding who should govern various nations, as part of its counter-terrorism strategy. Somalia, which has been in a state of chaos and armed struggle since the dictatorship of Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991, is considered by the U.S. government a potential breeding ground for terrorists.

Naturally, then, it falls to us to keep these terrorists from being bred, which we evidently intend to accomplish by propping up a weak government which actually governs very little, and providing military support, including some training and payment of Somali government soldiers. This is a strategy we've pursued here, there, and pretty much everywhere we see an opening.

Alwil is one of those soldiers. His U.S. subsidized salary is $1.50 a day some days; other days — nothing. Alwil is about 12 years old; neither he nor anyone else is sure. "He should be in school," says his commanding officer. "But there is no school." Says Alwil, asked what he enjoys, "I enjoy the gun."

But then, it's all Alwil has known since he was seven, when he joined a militia to survive, having been abandoned when his family fled the country. So it seems that the way you avoid breeding terrorists is to enter, with your great wealth, an ungoverned, violence-riven society where children are learning nothing but how to fight, and make sure they do their fighting on your (meager and somewhat unreliable) payroll. Strategery — we're still doin' it.

Article 3 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child begins:
1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.
It would be difficult to argue that this statement is being adhered to by either the U.S. or Somalia, with regard to these child soldiers.

Conveniently, the only two countries which have failed to ratify that Convention are the United States and Somalia. Said then-presidential-candidate Barack Obama of that fact:
It is embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia, a lawless land.
But it seems the demands of running the U.S. and, it apparently follows as does the night the day, as much of the rest of the world as we believe we're entitled to, require us to do more than keep company with Somalia. Now we have their children on our military payroll, by proxy. This is presumably a bit more embarrassing.

It isn't as though the U.S. government approves of the use of child soldiers. On Oct. 3, 2008 then-President Bush signed into law the Child Soldiers Accountability Act. This law imposes a fine and/or prison term "for knowingly recruiting, enlisting, or conscripting a person under 15 years of age into an armed force or group . . . or attempting or conspiring to do so, knowing such person is under 15 years of age" and promulgates various rules covering prosecution of both U.S. nationals and aliens who violate the act. The legislation was authored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and acquired 7 bipartisan co-sponsors in the Senate, including Sen. Durbin's then-fellow Illinois Senator, Barack Obama.

But Presidentin' is hard; priorities must be set. U.S. officials are "concerned" about the use of child soldiers, according to the Times article. They say they are trying to get the Somali government to be more careful about the age of their recruits. There are many factions fighting for control of Somalia, and the Transitional Federal Government is desperate for soldiers. Said a Somali official, "We were trying to find anyone who could carry a gun.”

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