Sacrificial Lambs At War

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In many of the world's hot spots, teen-agers are on the firing line. John Leonard reviews a new HBO documentary, Children in War.
A week ago in Geneva, our government finally signed a United Nations protocol raising the minimum age for boys in combat from 15 to 18.

There are 300,000 child soldiers at war somewhere in the world today, from Columbia to Congo - some of them as young as 10, many of them kidnapped or orphans, and all of them cannon fodder. This change of protocol was resisted by the Pentagon, stuck on 17 as a very good vintage for blood, but it compromised.

I don't know what to say except that, with topics like this even up for discussion, something's gone radically wrong. Imagine any cause so pure, any faith so fervent, any abstract expressionism so all consuming, that we not only murder children in its name but send them out to kill each other.

Two million children have died in the last 10 years in 30 different wars. A searing documentary on HBO would like to know why, and there's no sane answer.

Alan and Susan Raymond spent two years in Bosnia, Israel, Rwanda and northern Ireland, filming Children in War. Susan Raymond asks the questions. Children reply as best they can. But what can you say after Mostar and Sarajevo? Refugee camps? Mutilation? Well, you have learned something.

In Gaza we visit a camp for 100,000 displaced Palestinian children, half under 14. They talk about the Intifada. They even speechify. In Hebron, we visit Israeli settler girls, who also speechify, and then cross the mean street to talk to Palestinian girls harassed by settlers. They aren't hopeful.

Reviews by CBS News Sunday Morning Critic John Leonard

We are reminded of the massacre at the Tomb of the Patriarch and stop in at a Hamas school to discuss suicide bombing. This monument to a Jewish killer of Arabs has just been closed. This is what a bus bomb looks like in Jerusalem. This is how one girl feels about it.

To Rwanda, then, and genocide. Three hundred thousand Tutsi children were slaughtered by Hutus in three months; 4,000 are buried in a mass grave. Listen to these youngsters. This is what an internment camp for Hutus looks like. And a detention facility for Hutu children accused of war crimes.

Finally Belfast, with wall murals, peace graffiti and children's paintings. Just in time for a parade and a riot, after which the daughter of an IRA bomber is not at all apologetic, although the son of an Ulster militiaman seems to have his doubts. And the young people at one of the few "integrated" schools don't hold out much hope.

The best Children in War can come up with for these traumatized kids is art therapy. Art therap, a kind of counter-propaganda to the vile slogans and the clenched fists - as if, like the hopeful murals on the walls of Belfast, crayon drawings and watercolor paintings of schools bombed and houses burned and families dismembered could close the edges of this wound.

When we decided winning was so important that civilians might as well be targets, our children turned into collateral damage. It's inexcusable, this strapping of Semtex to sacrificial lambs. And it shouldn't surprise us that the kids we didn't finish off will try to kill us back.