Saturday, August 14, 2010

Lessons from a militarized childhood:
There are only two teams

(In this entry, I assume you are aware of my goal of raising a lot of money to help child soldiers by donating all of my earnings from sales of the hardback of Children No More to Falling Whistles. If you're not, you can go to the Children No More site and learn more there. I'll be here when you return.)

What I experienced in my three years in a militaristic youth group is nothing compared to what true child soldiers undergo. I believe, however, that they and I, as well as many abused children, emerge from our experiences having learned many of the same lessons. To help folks without these backgrounds understand some of the challenges facing these kids--and those who seek to help rehabilitate and reintegrate them--I'm going to talk about some of the lessons I learned--and that I believe they did, too.

Before I do, though, I want to make clear that I know how unhealthy these lessons are, I don't live my life by them, and so on.

They are, though, what such kids learn, and they are what I learned at that age.

Also, beware that there's going to be rough language and generally harsh stuff in all of these lessons. That's the nature of them.

Enough disclaimers. Let's get on with today's lesson:

There are only two teams

They like to talk about all kinds of teams: basketball teams, baseball teams, football teams, even teaching teams--but they're wrong. There are only two teams: yours, and everyone else. You can't always trust the guys on your team--more on trust in another lesson--but if a situation turns hot, you can, you will bet your ass that they will stand with you. And they will.

A kid, a private so new he still wants to call a sergeant "sir," stumbles into your camp after a night patrol. He's holding his stomach, still drying puke sullies his starched shirt, his split lip and nose are leaking blood, and his cover is missing. He broke the rules and went out alone, but that doesn't matter now. You get the story: two big guys, drunk guys, guys from the camp a little nearer to the highway than yours, tore into him for invading their space. Maybe he was, but you'll deal with that later. Right now, you grab your friends, four of them and the kid, you take your rifles--barrels blocked but still excellent clubs--and you head out.

You're twelve. Like that matters.

Finding the two guys is easy. They're still laughing about the lesson they taught the little shit, and they're tossing his cover back and forth. You've practiced this attack; they haven't. You're alert; they're drunk. You're six; they're two. It's nowhere near fair.

All that means is that you executed better than they did.

Two of you take out their legs first, while two more pull them down and cover their mouths. You all hit them, over and over, with rifles and fists and legs. The kid stands back, his eyes wide. When they're barely moving, when their faces are so wet that even with your flashlights you can barely find their eyes, you bring the kid over and make him take the last hit on each of them. He has to learn.

You pick up his cover and put it on his head.

Right before you go, you lean over each of them, clean their eyes to make sure they can see well, and shine the light on your face. They need to understand that you don't care if they know who you are. Then you tell them the lesson they should have already learned: "Touch one of us again, and we'll kill you."

You leave.

When you see their group the next day, you're ready, but they look away. Good. Like the kid, they had to learn.

Us. Them. It's that simple.


Michelle said...

Wow. These lessons are hard to read, but important to understand. It is sad and empowering all at the same time. Thank you for opening up a mental vault that contains some very harsh memories and sharing them on your blog. As bad as some of these sound, I am sure it is not 1/10th as difficult as what the child soldiers are going through today. I truly hope your campaign to help them is successful.

Mark said...

I share that hope. I think my experiences were literally nothing compared with theirs--and mine were plenty bad.


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