Friday, May 3, 2013

America's Legacy of Child Soldiers

This post by CFC Guest Blogger Suzanne Adair is part of her tour celebrating the release of her newest book. It had originally been scheduled to appear elsewhere, but that particular blog owner felt it was too controversial, especially in the wake of the tragic events in Boston. I assured Suzanne that CFC is not averse to controversy (we create enough on our own) and that we would welcome her, and what she had to share, with open arms.

Please welcome Suzanne Adair to CFC.

Award-winning novelist Suzanne Adair is a Florida native who lives in a two hundred-year-old city at the edge of the North Carolina Piedmont, named for an English explorer who was beheaded. Her suspense and thrillers transport readers to the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War, where she brings historic towns, battles, and people to life. She fuels her creativity with Revolutionary War reenacting and visits to historic sites. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking, dancing, hiking, and spending time with her family. A Hostage to Heritage, her next Michael Stoddard American Revolution thriller, was released in April 2013.

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***Suzanne is graciously offering a FREE copy of her new book, A Hostage to Heritage, in paperback, or one of a multiple number of ebook formats, to anyone (worldwide) who leaves a comment today—please specify your preferred format, and check back to see who the winner is. I will be totally responsible (along with LoML) for the selection.***

One of the most haunting images of war around the globe is that of children holding semi-automatic weapons. In the United States, these images shock a belief system. Children should be in nurturing home environments, enjoying the company of friends after school, taking clarinet lessons, playing softball. They should be allowed to be kids and dream.

Enlisting children as soldiers permits conflict to continue long after a desperate faction's supply of adult combatants has been exhausted. The global costs are astronomical. According to Child Soldiers International, many children who join armed groups volunteer. Their reasons may be any of the following:

·      Survival
·      Poverty and lack of access to education or work (thus the need for income)
·      Desire for power, status, and social recognition
·      Pressure from family or peers
·      Desire to honor a family tradition
·      Desire to escape domestic violence (and for girls an arranged marriage)

Americans convince themselves that such extreme measures happen elsewhere, in distant lands. But historically America has inherited a legacy of children in the military that’s just as horrific as modern conflicts with child soldiers. There were drummer boys on battlefields, sailor boys on navy ships, and ragged children traveling with armies as camp followers. Did these children escape the bullets and bayonets? No.

Children don't escape war.

Two years into the American War of Independence, the fight was going poorly for the Continentals. The Congress was determined to raise an army of eighty-eight infantry regiments. Joseph Moseley answered Congress’s recruitment call in March 1777 and enlisted as a Continental private in the newly made 14th Virginia Regiment. Joseph had just turned twelve years old.

In the 14th Virginia, Private Joseph Moseley wore a uniform, carried a firearm that was probably taller than he was, and was paid six and two-thirds dollars per month. His two teenage brothers were also in the regiment. Left behind at home were a mother widowed for eight years and a brother and sister, both younger than ten years old.

Joseph was discharged in February 1778, just after his thirteenth birthday. During his year of service, his regiment participated in major battles—Brandywine and Germantown—that were losses for the Continentals. The regiment also endured winter camp at Valley Forge. Joseph saw morale in the Continental Army at its lowest point, before the French, the Spanish, the Dutch, and Baron von Steuben offered their aid and changed the course of the war.

Joseph Moseley was my great, great, great-grandfather. Until I conducted research for my membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, my family thought that Joseph had joined a militia unit as an older teen at the end of the war and spent a year performing low-profile duties for the men: gathering firewood, cleaning weapons, digging latrines. We were stunned by the truth of a twelve-year-old in uniform who looked across battlefields at hundreds of disciplined redcoats with fixed bayonets. My upcoming thriller, A Hostage to Heritage, includes a sub-plot about child soldiers. Joseph has earned his spot on the Acknowledgements page.

My ancestor’s reasons for enlisting are found in the bulleted list, echoes of the reasons why children enlist today, a disconcerting history lesson. Joseph and countless other children picked up the firearms of dead men and continued the fight for the Continental Army. In doing so, they extended armed conflict for six years. And since our "Revolutionary War" was but one theater of a world war, the negative impact on the global economy was staggering.

Nations and factions have been using child soldiers for thousands of years. The effect on the children is obvious. Joseph and those who fought at his side had no childhood. At the least, they suffered from some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder for the rest of their lives, even if they volunteered for duty and were discharged with no physical injuries.

Today's child soldiers in Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East are all of humanity's casualties. They show us the costs of war, no matter how hard we try to look elsewhere.

Is there a child soldier among your ancestors? What do you think it will take to finally put an end to this horrific practice? 

Book description:
A boy kidnapped for ransom. And a madman who didn't bargain on Michael Stoddard's tenacity.

Spring 1781. The American Revolution enters its seventh grueling year. In Wilmington, North Carolina, redcoat investigator Lieutenant Michael Stoddard expects to round up two miscreants before Lord Cornwallis's army arrives for supplies. But his quarries' trail crosses with that of a criminal who has abducted a high-profile English heir. Michael's efforts to track down the boy plunge him into a twilight of terror from radical insurrectionists, whiskey smugglers, and snarled secrets out of his own past in Yorkshire.


  1. No child soldier among my ancestors to my knowledge. As to ending the practice, would take a solution to ending war.

    Best wishes for success of your book.

  2. Another intriguing glimpse into your love of the Revolutionary War period and your DAR research must have proven invaluable for your excellent books. So you not only travel between eras but also from "our" side to the "enemies" by covering the British side of things? Huzzah for walking that tightrope so well ;-)

    Child soldiers will continue to be part of our culture, much to my horror. And it may yet happen in America once more. There is a successful company marketing "beginner's" rifles to 5-year old children and a segment of the media espousing the need to start a second American Revolution...I'm trying very hard to remain polite in my comments on various blogs/websites these days as it doesn't seem to take much in our culture anymore to blow statements up into vitriolic tirades.

    And the fact that teachers are sometimes unable to teach any history in depth because of school policies to "teach to the test" doesn't do much to help our next generation learn from past mistakes :-0

    Off my soapbox now--Suzanne, there was nothing controversial in this post. Facts are facts and do not change--it's only our interpretation of them that can cause controversy.

    And to the CFC authors: I found your blog through Suzanne, but your past posts are thoughtful and well-written and I intend to search out your books and come back here often. Intelligent, respectful remarks on tough subjects are rare and I salute all of you.

  3. Liz, welcome! I suspect that you've hit the nail on the head about how to end the use of child soldiers. Alas, that "light" is at the end of a long tunnel.

  4. Linda, I've learned a few interesting things while participating in Revolutionary War reenacting on the Crown forces side. For example, there are (at least) two sides to every argument, and the British didn't think of themselves as the villains during the American Revolution. When you learn to switch the point of view like that, it becomes possible to see the point of view of almost every group that our history texts and current news labels a villain.

    Since my sons grew up in that reenacting environment, they, too, can see the "other" point of view. I imagine what America would be like if every child had that experience. It would be a lot less fearful, I guarantee you. A lot less eager to place semi-automatic death in the hands of five-year-olds.

    The media bill hatred as the fuel for the use of child soldiers. But if you look beneath the hatred, you'll find fear.

  5. Suzanne, this is a terrific post. Thanks for sharing some time with us today at CFC.

  6. You're welcome, Peg, and thank you for the opportunity.

  7. First, welcome and thanks - deeply - for the post.
    Second, I am trying to figure out what was so controversial about the post. That it was well-written? That it was informative? That it conveyed passion, knowledge, commitment? Child soldiers are facts - and casualties - of history - and each moment is already history. (see Asimov's "The Dead Past.") Oh, well, that other blog's loss and CFC's gain.
    Third, perhaps we need to view war, and particularly children in war, as abuse. But that's a subject for a deeper debate.
    Fourth, you asked about child soldiers in one's family. I don't know of any for certain, but given the Cantonist decree in Czarist Russia, it's likely. (This was a decree that conscripted Jewish children as young as 6, I believe, but usually around 10, and forced them to serve in the Czarist army for 25 years, thus destroying their connections with family, community, religion.)
    Fifth, there is another picture of a child soldier, other than the one you used, that saddens me every time I think of it: A kindergarten graduation class, in Gaza, with a little boy in "fighting gear" holding up bloody hands, and shouting something like "it's an honor to die killing Jews."
    Thank you for the post, for your novels, and for your efforts on behalf of children. Much success.

  8. I truly wish there was a way to end all war and conflict but since it's a part of human nature and has been going on forever..........I can just hope and pray. I only know of my family members that served in WWI, WWII, Korean and Vietnam ---- some of them were young but for sure --- not children!
    Lynn/MI (eBook would be fine)

  9. This post reminds me of a show I saw on PBS about military training. The man being interviewed (I don't remember his name or rank) said an interesting thing. He said, although they will take older recruits, they prefer recruits of no older than 19. "When they're young, they're convinced of their own immortality. The 'other guy' will catch the bullet, not them. For some reason, when they turn 20, they realize it could be them."

    I know that 19 is far older than what we think of as a child soldier, but I do see that denial in a lot of kids. They don't think they'll get hurt, and even death does not seem permanent to them. (I'm sure a child psychologist could explain this better.)

    To me, this is all the more reason to protect them.

  10. Love historical fiction and so happy to have found your series set in Revolutionary America, an oft overlooked period for historicals.

    Being a Florida native myself (still here in Tampa Bay), I wondered what part of Florida you were born in?

  11. I too have many Revolutionary ancestors who fought at a very early age - and one who was one of the oldest! Many entire families were engaged in the War effort, including wives, children, and the elderly.

    Coincidentally, I am an Adair descendant :) Joseph Adair, Sr. was 70 when he served as Commissary, he (along with son Joseph Jr) were early signers of the Williams Petition as well. I have a history and genealogy page here if anyone is interested.

    Suzanne, reading your stories brings my heritage to life, thank you so much!

    (Kindle is my preference)

  12. My great-great Aunt Jo was a DAR member; not sure why my mother and sister didn't join up. I don't know much about our Revolutionary activities (early family members were based on Natucket and involved with the whaling industry; later ones assisted the Underground Railroad).

    It's not just the child volunteers to sorrow over. There's also the kidnapped children (or lost/abandoned/orphaned kids who are given no choice). At that age, they don't understand what they're getting into, and by the time they do, it's too late (and they're no longer really children).

    Sandra (paperback)

  13. David, thanks for your comments. I agree with you about the abuse. And how sad, the picture you describe of the little boy in Gaza. So many of these children merely go where they're told to go, say what they're told to say, and do what they're told to do.

  14. Lynn, war is a part of human history, but I'm not convinced that it's a part of human nature. I'm reminded of the studies that compare chimpanzees with bonobos. The bonobos, just as closely related to humans as chimps, evolved to be less aggressive and more cooperative because their environment wasn't as threatening. What would happen to humans if their environment wasn't as threatening? Speculative fiction takes a look at that from time to time.

  15. Gayle, you make a good point about younger children viewing themselves as immortal. I wouldn't be surprised if the realization of one's own mortality doesn't set in until mid-20s for some. You have a close brush with death, or friends or relatives die. Then it sets in.

    In one piece of primary research that I read (a letter) for my series, a young redcoat who was writing home told his mother that his commander had said that the time to be afraid wasn't when he could hear musket balls whizzing past him, because that meant he hasn't been hit. (!) That's some crazy kind of psychology, isn't it?

  16. Patty, believe it or not, a literary agent once told me that the reason there wasn't more historical fiction set during the American Revolution was because publishers didn't think that time period was "sexy." (!)

    Ft. Lauderdale is where I was born.

  17. Lisa, you're so right about how whole families were caught up in the war effort during the American Revolution -- especially in the South, where the war became the Civil War, Part 1. What's sad is that a military unit traveling through an area was often the safest place for a family to be if their political persuasions matched those of the unit but differed from those of their neighbors. So those people might abandon their homes and follow the unit.

  18. Sandra, I cannot imagine how horrible it must be for a child to be kidnapped by a military unit, then forced to fight or act as fodder. In some countries, very young children are kidnapped just so they can act as a human shield for the aggressors. Most of them die in a hail of bullets. So sad.

  19. Suzanne, I find it rather ridiculous that the other blog wouldn't post this essay because they felt it was too controversial. Since when has history and fact become controversial? Sad.

    I'm not surprised by the quote Gayle heard on PBS from a military officer. If they could, they'd recruit at younger than 18 for that very reason, so they'd have longer with the soldier at peak physical condition with no real sense of mortality and a much more pliable mind.

    Like you, I wonder how we humans can redirect our evolution toward the more peaceful, cooperative nature of the bonobo.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post.

  20. Linda, thanks for your thoughtful comments. Yes, one of the two brothers identified as being complicit in the recent bombing in Boston is 19. Peak age for soldier training. It isn't difficult to imagine that he and young men like him received training and indoctrination for years.

    That bombing is another example of why history -- in this case, the historical use of child soldiers -- is relevant. I've written this many times on my blog tour: we aren't learning from history too well. The bonobos are way ahead of us at that.

  21. I hadn't thought about the link between our history and that of other nations in relation to child soldiers, but I'm glad to have it all pulled together.

    My great grandfather, whom I knew when I was a small child in the late 1940s, was a drummer boy in the Civil War. He grew up on a farm in western New York, and returned there to run a store, but his years in the war remained vivid. My mother often talked about the Civil War and how real it was to her because of his stories. He was ten years old when the war ended, so he must have been one or two years younger when he marched off. I have one letter that he sent home, talking about what he saw after a battle. He didn't care for Southern cities. He was a farm boy through and through.

  22. In Guatemala the rebels were called," los muchachos" the boys because of their young ages.

  23. Susan, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that every nation that's been around for more than a handful of years has used child soldiers at some point. America keeps a low profile about its own history with child soldiers. Many citizens, if asked what a Civil War drummer boy like your ancestor witnessed and had to deal with, would probably give a vague response -- or describe a scene worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting.

    Your ancestor was fortunate to survive. Musicians (pipe, drum, horn) were early targets in a battle because they relayed movement commands from officers to soldiers above the tumult of battle.

  24. Warren, I'd read that. Sad, isn't it?

  25. Huzzah! A Hostage to Heritage just received its fifth five-star review on Amazon. "This is a complex and fast-paced thriller with twists and turns that will keep the reader engaged until the last page."

    1. Congratulations, Suzanne!

      It was wonderful having you as a guest blogger at CFC.


    I held several tiny folded pieces of paper out to LoML this morning and asked him to draw one.

    Jostara, please contact Suzanne directly to make arrangements to receive your free copy of A HOSTAGE TO HERITAGE. Suzanne Adair at gmail dot com


  27. For some reason my comment did not appear.
    Judy Dee


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