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Konrad Werner: Child soldiers

Germany likes to be the cutting edge of innovation, so when it sees sub-Saharan countries leading the field in child soldiering, the Bundeswehr has to catch up.

Image for Konrad Werner: Child soldiers
Photo by James Vaughan (x-ray delta one; Flickr CC)

Child soldiering is one of those thorny things, isn’t it? It’s part of our image of Africa, for example, but then the minimum age of enlistment in Germany is 17, (and in the British Army it’s 16). It’s not just the kinds of groups that are interested in human rights that worry that some NATO soldiers aren’t allowed to vote for those who send them into battle.

Obviously, allowing kids to train for military operations is not the same as getting them to smoke crack mixed with gunpowder and making them shoot their friends like in Sierra Leone. But Germany is also a country that prides itself on its pacifist stance in international conflicts, like Libya and such.

So you can see why the Bundeswehr might have been a bit embarrassed earlier this week when a video was released showing a 9-year-old having a go on a real machine gun. Even though the particular army base which held this open day defended itself, the video has been removed from YouTube. That also goes for the video showing children playing a game of village-bombing with a toy town called “Little Mitrovica”, which also happens to be the name of a village that featured in a World War II Wehrmacht massacre. But you can see pictures here.

With conscription officially over at the end of this month, it seems like the Bundeswehr has been a bit zealous with its recruitment drive. But then, as many of The Local’s always reliably well-balanced commenters pointed out, kids do love their war games. There are few five-year-olds that don’t go all giddy at the thought of cutting someone’s legs off with a light sabre.

But the Bundeswehr didn’t just build a giant Lego town and let the kids fulfil their fantasies. They didn’t even recreate a Call of Duty-type war in a computer and let them play it out. They invited them to think of the actual army – the one that kills Afghans – as an extension of their own fantasy worlds. This seems ass-backwards worse, overall.