CHILDREN AT WAR: Force is the ultimate arbiter of disagreement in our world, and warfare is the supreme manifestation of force. Naturally then, people are fascinated with war, how it is waged, and how it is won. I wrote earlier (twice) that keeping women out of combat is a luxury that we, as a country, can afford; even more, we can afford to keep our children out.
If you are interested in understanding the shape of warfare around the world, however, I highly recommend this article by P. W. Singer that discusses the issue of child warriors. He explains how they are abducted and controlled by their adult commanders, and what situational circumstances facilitate to their use in combat. As he writes, it is inevitable that the US military will eventually be forced to fight and kill children armed by our enemies (such as the Hitler Youth in WW2), and it is important that we learn how to deal with them in the most effective manner, both during combat and afterwards.
One of the most interesting points that the article makes is that it is only because of recent technology that children are even able to fight effectively.
Technological and efficiency advances in these weapons permit the transformation of children into lethal fighters. For most of human history, weapons relied on the brute strength and long-term training of the operator, which was prohibitive to the effective use of children as soldiers. For example, a child not fully matured could not bear the physical burdens of serving in the phalanx. Even until just a generation ago, personal battlefield weapons were still heavy and bulky, generally limiting children's participation. But improvements in manufacturing, such as the incorporation of plastics, now make modern weapons--particularly automatic rifles--so light that small children can use them as effectively as adults. Just as important, most small arms have been simplified in their use, to the extent that they can be stripped, reassembled, and fired by a child below the age of ten. With only a few hours of training, a youngster can be taught all he or she needs to know in order to kill. At the same time, vast increases have been made in the lethality of small arms, multiplying their destructive power. Modern assault rifles give a handful of children the equivalent firepower of an entire Napoleonic regiment.
Via Geitner Simmons, writing at the Volokh Conspiracy.