This is an excerpt from Operation Warhawks (read the full book here).
To Die a Glorious Death
They could hear the enemy coming through the thick jungle. They could smell the terrible odor of fear. They gripped their automatic rifles. They were very alert to all movements. Suddenly the enemy stood up and moved forward. There were three of them, adults in combat uniforms. The young boys stood up, fired rapid, jerking bursts of gun fire, and the three adults fell like dead weights into the tall grass.
The three boys, ages eleven, twelve and thirteen, went over to the dead, bleeding figures. One of the adults had been hit in the face; part of his skull was missing. Blood covered his face, hair and chest. The other two adults were bleeding profusely, dark holes in their uniforms where the crashing bullets entered. The boys thumped the bodies of the adults with their rifle butts to make sure they were dead. The boys had killed often. They had been warriors since they were nine years old. Now it was all business—the business of killing.
“How did it feel, boy?” the adult commander asked one of them.
“I was happy because I killed them,” he answered slowly, deliberately. “I enjoyed myself. It was exciting. Now I will live in our holy land forever after.”
“And you,” the commander looked coldly at one of the other boys.
“I kill because either we kill them or they will kill us. If they die a glorious death according to their religion, they will die in honor. But I must kill for our honor, for my people, my beliefs. It is an honor to die for my beliefs. I will not let the enemy’s foot into my country. He is an infidel,” the boy answered in a well-practiced chant, memorized from their classes.
The next night the three boys captured four enemy soldiers. They tied the prisoners’ hands, blindfolded them and marched them back to their camp. After their commander spoke to the prisoners, the boys lined the prisoners up and shot them.
Every day, except once a week, the boys go to their lessons. They each have automatic rifles. They also are trained to handle bigger weapons, like rocket launchers and bazookas. Over the years, they are indoctrinated into the lessons of Holy War. Their school is a dark, windowless concrete room with military pictures and slogans on the walls. The little academics they get are mixed with their religious beliefs. An algebra problem shows that their God is one. History is taught to demonstrate that their religion is the oldest, the chosen one to which God gave special rights—to save the world by ridding it of the “unclean ones,” the defilers, the heathens, their enemies. They call it “religious cleansing,” which means torture, murder and mass killings of anyone who doesn’t believe in their chosen way.
“Who is ready to fight?” the teacher calls out to the young boys.
A six-year old boy, small but fierce, stands up and recites the well-rehearsed chant.
“I will honor my God; to die for him is an honor. Death to those who don’t believe!” He salutes and then sits down smiling. The teacher does not smile. This is serious business.
In the afternoon the boys practice skills, pretending to step around an imaginary minefield filled with deadly diskshaped explosive devices.
That next night the three boys are given the real task of detecting the mines—a job of great honor. Pinning pictures of their religious leader on the boys’ shirts, the adult commander orders them forward. It has to be done in order to advance the soldiers. Hundreds of young boys before them sacrificed life and limb for the glory of their leader and religion. For this is a Holy War, a war to end all war, a war of peace, to save humans from their sins, to bring their religion to the unfaithful. To die in battle is the highest glory.
It is a moonless night. The jungle seems endless. The enemy could be anywhere. Under the silent cover of darkness the three boys creep forward, feeling the ground with long sticks like blind men, searching for land mines to dig up and make harmless.
Ever so slowly, sweat dripping from their bodies, their eyes straining intensely, their hearts beating fiercely in their chests, they move forward with infinite caution. “Your leader will honor you. Your God will give you life everlasting. There is no greater glory than to serve and die for them,” they could hear their teacher tell them in a mechanical, hard, practiced manner. These words give them courage to move forward into this terrible danger. And because they trust the adults and want their approval, these young boys go out in that minefield to clear the way for the regular adult soldiers in their drive to conquer the enemy of their religion.
It happened, as tragedy does, in an unexpected, sudden moment. The sound and flash sent them all flying up and backwards, with smoking dirt.
They woke up in the dingy hospital, lying face up on stretchers. One boy’s wrists were tied to the bedpost in order to prevent him from ripping off his bandages. The second boy lay on his side. He slowly came to and blinked at the bright, dirty lights glaring down at him from the ceiling. He was completely numb. He could move only one arm. He felt bandages on his stomach and then lower on his legs. He felt a strange painful feeling in his legs, an awful aching sensation. He felt he could move his toes and was suddenly relieved. He reached down to rub his right leg and found only emptiness. He reached quickly for his left leg and there too found emptiness. His legs felt as if they were tucked up under him so he reached behind him, but still there was only emptiness. He leaned up a bit and looked down at his lower body. What was once his legs were now bloody bandaged stumps. His legs were gone, from the thighs down.
In nearby beds, young boys all around them were moaning and calling out pitifully. “The pain! The pain!” The boys were given morphine to kill the pain. Young boys called for their mothers.
The third boy on the night in the minefield had been blown to bits. He stepped directly on a very large land mine. There was nothing left.
One of the boys in a bed nearby cried out, “I must die for honor, my God will give me eternal life. I will fight again to kill the enemy or be killed. It is our way. It has always been our way.”
On the wall, a torn, soiled banner reads: “Death before Dishonor!” In the distance new young recruits are singing the Holy Warrior’s fighting song:
“Onward Holy Soldiers, marching out to war,
Our mighty fortress is our God,
Praise to his wondrous warrior spirit,
His shield of truth and righteousness,
Shall save us one and all.”
Children Conditioned to Fight for Peace
The story you’ve just read is true. It has happened thousands of times before. Today as you read these words, young people are being conditioned to “fight for peace,” for their religious beliefs.
In Afghanistan, Central African republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Myanmar, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen children are being trained as soldiers, as Holy Warriors, to defend the beliefs of their religious and political leaders.
It is estimated that more than 250,000 children under the age of fifteen are being trained today in armies around the world