4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Noble cause, very strange book,
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This review is from: They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children (Paperback)
Dallaire's first book, Shake Hands with the Devil, became one of the most important works to enter the literature concerned with the Rwandan genocide. He was clearly deeply affected by what he experienced there and after expressing that almost mesmerically in his previous work, he seeks to build on that with this book, detailing his new vocation in attempting to eradicate the use of child soldiers.
What emerges is both the horrifying nature of the use of child soldiers, and Dallaire's passion to do something about it. However, the book itself proves an unusual blend of fiction, non-fiction, narrative, rhetoric and motivational writing.
The book begins with Dallaire's reflections on his own childhood and early military career, before spending time talking about Rwanda and his exposure to child soldiers. This is then followed by a very odd and not altogether convincing fictional account focussing on a young boy, who loses his childhood when taken and trained as a child soldier. Clearly, the intention is to create a clear and emotive image in the reader's mind, around which discussion is shaped in the next three chapters: how a child soldier is made; how a child soldier is used; how a child soldier is 'unmade'. Indeed, the fictional element contains details which are expanded and explained in the subsequent factual section, which are arguably easier to understand in light of the story.
However, two things are odd in relation to this fictional element:
1. Dallaire makes reference to the importance of including multiple actors in any discussion of steps to combat child soldiering, including child soldiers themselves. Given that Ishmael Beah writes the foreword to the book, and there are now a number of factual accounts of experiences as child soldiers, it is strange that Dallaire does not use real-life case studies or elucidate real-life occurences, rather than reverting to questionable-quality fiction.
2. Dallaire also places a focus on the some 40% of child soldiers who are girls, and stresses the need for a separate approach to dealing with female child soldiers. Nevertheless, despite references to girl soldiers in the story, the central actor is a boy.
In saying this, ignoring the fictional element, the three substantive chapters concerning child soldiers use a good range of case studies and Dallaire makes reference to a number of other works in substantiating his argument, which revolves seeing, and dealing with, child soldiers as 'weapons systems'. This is an engaging argument that he makes well.
However, soon to follow is a second fictional account, this time from the perspective of a peacekeeper, which supposedly highlights the difficulties that such an actor faces in dealing with child soldiers. This lays the ground for discussion of Dallaire's own Child Soldiers Initiative, which outlines the cause before talking of the operational difficulties in getting the project off the ground. Whilst posing a number of questions, it is made clear that it is a work in progress and it seems more of a project update than really offering anything greatly useful to the debate.
The book closes with a motivational plea to the 'youth' to take a stand and work to better humanity. Dallaire does offer some 'concrete steps' that the individual can take and it is clear from his advocacy of both the Responsibility to Protect doctrine and media- and government- lobbying that his wounds from Rwanda have by no means healed.
Overall, the book is a strange blend of fact and fiction that leaves the reader with a clear idea of why child soldiers are used, the experiences of child soldiers, the effects on the child, and the effects on those tasked to deal with child soldiers. In addition, a number of questions are posed to the reader, and an invite extended to join his project to find the answers. Thus, the book's primary purpose will be seen to open public debate and action, in which capacity it is probably a success; this is helped by the emotive nature of the plea, and the status of the writer. However, for a rigorous and academic look at child soldiers, this is perhaps not the right book.