Children and War Crimes

A pacifist view on international conflict

Pax Ahimsa Gethen

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A young child interacts with an M2 machine gun on display outdoors while another watches.
Two children with a machine gun. Public domain image.

Like many people around the world, I have read about the ongoing carnage in the Israel-Hamas war with horror and dismay. I am of half-Jewish ancestry, but I have no allegiance to Israel; I am a pacifist, and opposed to all use of firearms and all intentional killing of human beings.

Many who have condemned the actions of Hamas have said that this group has indiscriminately attacked and killed civilians, including children. Others have said the same about the Israeli forces.

I understand why people are especially angered when children are killed. Most people consider children under a certain age to be innocent, though this threshold that can vary based on the observer’s prejudices.

In terms of morality, we are all born as blank slates. We need to be taught about nationality, race, ethnicity, gender, and religion. We need to be taught that people should be treated differently based on their nationality, race, ethnicity, gender, and religion.

We need to be taught to hate.

Children who grow up to fight in armed forces—sometimes before they have fully matured themselves—don’t always have a choice in the matter. Wars are declared by leaders who are often far removed from the field of battle. Regardless of which “side” they’re fighting on, soldiers are neither bloodthirsty monsters nor mindless automatons; like civilians, they are all human beings, with families, fears, hopes, and dreams.

Whether in Israel, Palestine, Russia, or the Ukraine, every soldier in battle would much likely rather be home and safe with their loved ones than attacking and killing other human beings. The same applies to everyone who has ever fought in an armed conflict. War is ugly and terrible and brings glory to no one.

To consider the killing of civilians as unacceptable, but the killing of soldiers as inevitable, is to legitimize the waging of war. To me, the notion of a “war crime” is a concession that humans are an inherently violent species. Human leaders have decided that the forcible taking of others’ property, land, and lives is permissible as long as certain guidelines are obeyed.

I prefer anarchy to a world where mass killings are considered legal. No one should have the right to decide whether another person’s life is expendable in the interest of preserving or expanding national boundaries or “freedom”.

If we are to evolve as a species, we must stop hating and killing each other. The alternative is to to live in continual fear and distrust of our neighbors, whether across the street or across the ocean. I don’t want to live like this. Do you?

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Pax Ahimsa Gethen

Queer agender trans male. Black vegan atheist, pacifist. Pronouns: they/them/their. funcrunch.org, patreon.com/funcrunch