Very often, children are used shamelessly and exploitively to make a point in war. I've seen it on all sides, in many guises. I remember being physically revolted once when I watched an Iraqi doctor pull up the nightshirt of a small child to show the awful reality of US sanctions against his people. Surely, this was something that needed to be seen, a story that needed to be told. But there was something very disturbing about the way it all played out.
The child lay on a sheet, naked from the waste down, exposed and uncomfortable as the camera sought to objectify him. The doctor gestured repeatedly at his distended stomach, a sign of malnutrition. Finally, the child timidly reached a small arm down and modestly tried to pull his nightshirt back over himself, but the doctor impatiently brushed the boy's hand away and pulled it back up. This was, after all, a photo op. Show the American the starving, brown-eyed boy.
I've seen that boy echoed in many other photographs of children ravaged by war. Big, brown eyes staring sadly at the lens, wounds exhibited like score cards. I never really thought about it until that one incident, where I realized how dehumanizing it all was. This was a little human being, with a sense of modesty and a story of his own. But he was reduced to a photogenic pawn by someone who probably meant well, but who was unable to consider him as anything but an object of display. I'm not sure it's right to use children like that, but I'm not sure how else one can make the world understand what is really happening there either.
Sometimes, though, the use of children in wartime is much more dangerous for them. And much less forgivable. Last week, a group of children was lured into harm's way by the promise of candy and toys from US soldiers. Thirty-five of them were killed for it.
Why would US soldiers be handing out candy to babies, knowing what danger it posed to them? Despite what we might be told by the corporate media here, the US occupiers are hated there. Just as any occupying army would be hated here, if it were rolling down the streets of our neighborhoods. They are constant targets of, and perpetrators of, violence. This is what war is. This is no place for children.
But in an effort to win hearts and minds, both here and in Iraq, the soldiers mindlessly follow a long and hallowed tradition of propaganda: They hand out chocolate to children. This is supposed to put a human face on the occupiers. It is supposed to show how good and well intended they are. Even though they're kicking down doorways and blowing up houses and taking fathers away, maybe the children will realize how really good they are when they see those bars of chocolate and little plastic footballs. I'm sure there's even a product-placement commercial in it somewhere. Will Nestle or Hersheys someday take the credit for providing all those candies? Will Hasbro or Tyco or Fisher Price someday be endorsed by little Iraqi children who just had to have a plastic football?
The truth is, the shocking use of toys and candy to lure children into a situation that was clearly dangerous for them is unforgivable. The US military is shamelessly playing on the needs and desires of children in an effort to soften their blood-thirsty, imperialist image. They are hiding behind babies. This time, their callous disregard for the consequences of this ploy cost 35 children their lives. I believe it's time we demand that they no longer use children in this way. If US soldiers want to appear humanized and friendly, then they must stop bombing the homes and schools and neighborhoods of Iraqi children. They cannot merely salve these wounds by "charitably" dispensing a few brand-name chocolates, especially when doing so poses such horrific risk. If they want to win hearts and minds, then they must leave those hearts beating, and those minds without the lifelong scars currently being inflicted.