Book Reviews

They Fight Like Solders They Die Like Children Book Cover

They Fight Like Solders They Die Like Children Book Cover

They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children

by Roméo Dallaire
Toronto: Random House Canada, 2010
307 pages, $22.00
ISBN 978-0-307-35578-2.

Print PDF

For more information on accessing this file, please visit our help page.

Reviewed by Michael Rostek

Senator Romeo Dallaire entered into the mainstream public fora with his award-winning book Shake Hands with the Devil, a compelling and heart wrenching personal account chronicling his time as Commander, United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. It was here where he first articulated chilling accounts of his encounter with child soldiers. Today, the use of child soldiers remains prevalent throughout the world, and They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children provides an insightful, and, at times, a brutal account of an evil that continues to plague humanity.

Dallaire uses a unique blend of fiction and non-fiction within this book to convey his message of eradicating the use of child soldiers. While this combination of fiction and non-fiction is meshed together somewhat awkwardly, the fiction tends to evoke an emotional response connecting facts with fiction, thereby evoking powerful images, and, in turn, solidifying the message in the conscience of the reader. The chapters dedicated to how a child soldier is made, trained, and used are equally as thought provoking as they are disturbing. Of note, Dallaire highlights that approximately 40 percent of all child soldiers world-wide are girls, as girls are often considered more valuable than boys being used for everything from sex slaves, to cooks, to combatants. The emotional and psychological effects upon professional soldiers encountering, and, at times, killing child soldiers, also fictionalized in the book, are equally vivid and disheartening. Dallaire righty highlights the intense moral dilemmas present in professional soldiers if and when required to kill child soldiers, and he legitimately questions how long professional soldiers can engage in such acts before their ‘brains fry.’

Perhaps one of the more controversial aspects of the book is Dallaire’s classification of child soldiers as “weapons systems.” Dallaire’s hypothesis articulates that if child soldiers are a weapon system of choice for commanders, then it should be possible to decommission or neutralize that weapon system in order to eradicate the use of child soldiers, not the child. In order to “unmake a child soldier,” Dallaire highlights the difficulties associated with the current approach though Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration programs and he calls for the use of a “comprehensive approach” – bridging gaps, integrating efforts and resource allocation among disparate actors in the field– “… to eradicate the scourge deliberately inflicted on children by adults.” Indeed, a comprehensive approach wholly applied to this complex phenomenon seems entirely logical, perhaps offering the best chance for success in eradicating the use of child soldiers. However, as Senator Dallaire has observed throughout this work, the difficulty of bringing the military and humanitarian communities together for this common purpose should not be underestimated.

Dallaire uses the final chapters in the book as a call to action highlighting his Child Soldiers Initiative. In speaking about the book, he has drawn parallels of his life mission to the abolition of slavery, once a commonly-accepted international norm. Slavery was abolished in part through the use of norm entrepreneurs (master enablers of normative change) and the use of several diffusion mechanisms (how international norms make their way into states). They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children, and the establishment of the Child Soldiers Initiative anchored at Dalhousie University, clearly represent cogent diffusion mechanisms, and indeed, Romeo Dallaire represents a norm entrepreneur himself. However, it took approximately a century of sustained effort by norm entrepreneurs as well as the use of a wide variety of diffusion mechanisms to abolish slavery. Let us hope that Romeo Dallaire’s call to action achieves equal, but more timely results.

Colonel (ret’d) Michael A. Rostek, CD, Ph.D, is currently the Executive Director of The Royal Military Colleges Club of Canada.