What would be some behavioral/psychological differences between a kid who’s been raised for combat and a child soldier? She’s in her mid-teens on what was supposed to be a routine training mission when shit hits the fan and she ends up getting captured. The enemy armed forces that have her assume that she’s a child soldier that’s been otherwise coerced into this and treat her as such. So how would they be trying to establish rapport with her or subvert her loyalties? (and utterly failing) [1/2]

What, if any, chance do they have of actually succeeding, given that
she’s been training since she was 5? Is there any way for them to manage
to turn her loyalties? And what would be going through her head during
all of this beyond disdain and escape plans, regardless of whether or
not she turns? [2/2]
       
    

I get what you’re asking here, you’re asking if a child soldier can be saved through the power of friendship. The answer to that, upfront, is no. Child soldiers and children raised for combat are not misunderstood misanthropes who’ve never had a support network but know what it is and can be approached in the same way you would the average loner.

Child soldiers/kids who’ve been put through any kind of brainwashing are a difficult subject to discuss because it is profoundly disturbing and messed up. The assumption is that if they’re kidnapped from their families, they’ll grow to secretly hate their captors and jump when the first opportunity comes for escape.

That isn’t how it works. In the training, they’re driven to hate their parents and view them as weak. As they’re systematically broken down, they grow to love their captors and consider them family. They develop a deep and abiding loyalty to them.

Falling prey to this conditioning has nothing to do with how strong someone is or isn’t. It’s not a matter of mental or emotional strength. Breaking them down and rebuilding them from the inside out is what their handlers do. They are very adept at it. These children are conditioned through empowerment, which is part of why it’s so seductive. They’re taught to believe that they are better and stronger than everyone else, that other humans are weak. That weakness must be destroyed.

You won’t reach them by treating them in any way they’ll perceive as weakness and if you react the way they expect then you play into the hands of the people who programmed them, then you’ve reinforced the child’s conditioning. The mental conditioning is a booby-trap for the people who might try to help them. Every intuitive choice, every choice that feels natural is going to be the wrong one.

You cannot reach them if you come to them with an assumed understanding of who they are and what a human being is. There’s the person they were, who they’ve learned to despise and the person they see themselves as now. Approaching either of those individuals, whether it’s the person they were or who they currently are, will lock you out.

The average person with no understanding will simply reinforce the child’s views and their handler’s views, and shut out of any way to help them by the child’s dismissal. That’s if the kid doesn’t kill them first, which they will because that’s what they were conditioned to do.

A child overcoming this programming requires years and years of therapy, if they’re fortunate enough to receive it at all.

Abuse isn’t cured by the power of friendship.

We’ve talked about #child soldiers and #children and combat on separate occasions, we’ve even compared them to each other and explained the difference. They are not, however, totally separate.

The main difference:

1) Children Raised to Combat are a long term investment. This is someone whose training has been the focus of their life, with the intent to turn out a solid, above average combatant. These children who won’t see combat until they reach their late teens/adulthood.

2) Child Soldiers are expendable assets given a gun, often given drugs like “BamBam”, told they’re immortal, and shoved onto the battlefield on the idea they’ll give the adult soldiers pause, gun a few down, before getting gunned down themselves. They’re not “soldiers” so much as they are distractions. They are also never sent out alone. You’re not up against one, you’re up against many.

Both have the option of having been put through cultish/psychological programming, but the difference between the two is fairly obvious. It’s a disoriented and drugged child violently kidnapped from their village versus a member of the Hitler Youth or another, similar, organization.

They are both psychologically damaged but in vastly different ways, and those circumstances make it nearly impossible for anyone who isn’t a child soldier or comes from a similarly abusive background to relate.

The irony is going that the Child Soldier is going to be much, much easier to turn because they were never really inside the system to begin with. However, even with just a scant few months, the deprogramming is going to take years. They’re never treated as important. A child who has been raised to combat is valuable, they often see joining as their choice, and they know their own worth. They’ve never known any other kind of normal and are in a much better place to evaluate why their side is the right one. They are co-operative participants, rather than forced. They’re going to see the instructors in their lives as friends and family. They’ll believe in the cause.

A good way to look at the thought process of the adults behind these training programs would be to take a look at the French novel/film “La Femme Nikita” where the assassins are all druggies and runaways pulled off the streets, cleaned up, sobered out, and trained to kill people.

Why is this important?

Because it inspires loyalty. You take people no one will know and no one will miss, people who are not regularly getting four square meals a day, and get them off the streets. You give them a safe place to sleep, regular food, and a purpose. From their perspective, you save them. The threat of expulsion comes next, but what you ask them to do next is not that much worse for them than the hell they were living in before.

The problem when most people look at these situations and setups is that they miss the deeply embedded trust, loyalty, and respect these children feel for those who train them. They have a lifetime and a normative societal state to banish their doubts. They will know what the outside world is like. They’ll have been educated. If they’ve been handled by someone skilled, then everything they see will merely confirm their sociological programming. Questions will be encouraged. Pride in their skills, pride in their country/mission, ego, and self-esteem are encouraged.

You’re looking at your character having an attitude similar to the Spartans in 300.

Or, you know, Starship Troopers.

A person who understands their ideology and philosophy is far more useful and capable of independent operation than a blind follower. You want your elites to be capable of independently operating on their own.

You can’t force someone to be good at fighting. You can’t force someone to learn. Like the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

However, the real problem with this question is a critical failure to understand how soldiers operate in warzones, specifically in regards to enemy combatants.

Child Soldiers are still soldiers. They’re enemy combatants and they’re treated like enemy combatants.

This is the concept that’s hardest for most people to grasp.

It doesn’t matter, at the end of the day, whether or not they’re a forced conscript.
Child Soldiers are treated as enemy combatants, not children because, well, they are.

The sad truth about them is that they’re not really kids anymore. They’re brainwashed and weaponized. The moral barrier that will stop the average child from killing someone doesn’t exist for them. It’s gone. Their innocence is gone. They are exceedingly dangerous. They’re likely to betray and kill their “rescuers” if left to their own devices then return to those who kidnapped them in the first place.

This is a behavior pattern which does not normally make sense to those who have never been abused, but it is very real.

What’s been done to them can’t be cured with kindness, at least not in the early stages and the average person can’t relate to them. It’s difficult enough for most people to relate to adults who’ve been through your garden variety child abuse, and this is on a whole other level. These kids are systematically broken. That is the point of the breaking. So, that when the average adult treats them like a kid they kill them.

Child soldiers are unpredictable, including for seasoned combatants. It’s hard as hell to tell when they’re going to snap, and there’s a certain level of psychopathy just lingering beneath the surface because (as children) they’re brains can’t register that death is real.

This is true with children and you see it a lot with children dealing with grief, they lack an understanding of permanence and struggle with the concept of death. Minors don’t grasp consequences the same way adults do, and there are different standards regarding their ability to do so consciously.The training child soldiers undergo preys on that. It preys on the limbo. So, they’re handlers feed them cocaine and tell them they’re invincible and they believe them. The important thing about child soldiers is that they don’t know what they’re doing. Their psychology is exploited by their handlers.

You can feel pity for the dog that’s been abused to the point its mind is broken. It won’t stop the dog from killing you.

So, you’re asking these soldiers to take a ticking time bomb with them. Someone who is a direct threat to their lives and their mission. No matter the amount of pity they feel, this is a time bomb they know better than to take. This is especially true if they’re working in enemy territory where she’ll have numerous chances to betray them to her comrades. They’re not equipped to handle her.

She belongs in a POW camp, away from combat, with people who can devote their time to helping her figure out how to be a human instead of a weapon.

Right now, a weapon is all this character knows how to be.

-Michi

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References and Resources:

It is worth remembering that child soldiers exist in the real world, both in our present and throughout history. There is a body of research available on the subject, and worth looking into if you want to do it justice.

If you are a minor, I insist that you approach this subject with the aid or help of an adult. Child soldiers are disturbing material.

The CNN article on Ishmael Beah is an excellent place to start. Beah was a child soldier in the Sierra Leone eventually captured by enemy forces and rehabilitated by Unicef. His memoir A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier is worth looking into if you intend to take the true child soldier route.

If you’re interested in being depressed or learning more about the African diamond trade and how it ties into the Sierra Leone then Blood Diamond with Leonardo Dicaprio is a good movie to invest some time into. The movie goes through great pains to ensure the treatment of child soldiers and their training is accurate.

The book Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Path of the World’s Most Precious Stones which the movie referenced extensively, though only two chapters in the book discuss child soldiers directly. Instead, it focuses on the use of diamonds to fund the RUF in the Sierra Leone. You may find this book more helpful for worldbuilding and it’s discussion on the funding a revolution.

Monster an autobiography by Sanyika Shakur aka Kody Scott about his sixteen years spent as a gangbanger may be helpful. Gangs have a different method in their recruitment of child soldiers but, at the end of the day, the attitudes and mentalities end up in a similar place.

Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany by Hans J. Massaquoi isn’t a book about child soldiers per say, but it does document the effect Nazism had on the German people. If you ever wondered how the average person could fall victim to widespread propoganda, participate in such heinous acts, or wondered how the Nazis worked then this is a must read book.

Check out Boy Seamen on Wikipedia, a page discussing the ranking and usage of young adults as sailors in the British Navy and others at the turn of the century. Russel Crowe’s adaptation of Master and Commander: Far Side of the World has an accurate representation of the ages that were put to sea. Patrick O’brien’s series is a must read for anyone interested in doing any writing about the British Navy.

We bring up the Boy Scouts of America sometimes when discussing children raised for combat and while it isn’t a direct 1 to 1 comparison, most of the skills studied and mastered by the Boy Scouts as they gain badges are the sorts of supplementary survival skills you start children on when preparing them for a lifetime of combat.

You don’t have to look far to find the history of children studying and used in warfare. There’s a wealth of information out there, if you start looking for it.

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