This I Believe

Katherine - Alameda, California
Entered on February 16, 2009
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: children, war

This I Believe: War Tortures Children

The other day, walking across a busy street at a cross walk, I reached down for my 2 year old granddaughter’s hand. She was meantime reaching up for mine, so we met half way. This sort of holding hands is not the subject of a lot of romantic ballads, but anybody who has deeply loved a small child can tell you the feeling is chest-hurting sweet.

Together, she and I transacted the business of skirting death, in this case from oncoming automobiles. Of course, millions of other grandparents across the world do the same: grasp for a small hand to avoid a hot stove; a guided missile, a poisonous substance, a soldier, a polluted water source.

Too many times, we grandparents fail, most heartrendingly, in times of war. I think often of an Iraqi grandparent’s anguish, grabbing the hand of a tiny charge as a door is kicked open, or a bomb explodes in a bloody marketplace. In Cambodia and Laos, young children still stumble on land mines, or mistake them for a toy.

It is a terrible thing to fail to protect a child. Which brings me to the matter of the Rules of War. Lately, we have been disavowing torture, developing rules about torture, and citing the Geneva Conventions. Pictures are broadcast of adults doing terrible things to adults. Never once in these discussions do I hear about the torture of children, which is surely a suitable term for their maiming and killing in war.

So this I believe: that the killing and maiming of children should be considered a form of torture, and forbidden by international law. The Geneva Conventions should have a clear provision on this matter. As of now, they only address child soldiers, not child victims.

Here’s what I’ve heard so far when I’ve discussed this idea with friends: “Dream on.” with a polite smile; “What about a teenager who points a gun at you?”; and most tellingly, “I don’t think anyone purposefully kills children, it’s more like collateral damage.”

In the early days of the Iraq war, there was a self-congratulatory story in the Oakland Tribune about a small boy from Iraq who had lost both arms and an eye, and most of his stomach, and had been rescued and rehabilitated in Oakland. After a lot of surgery, he is now laughing with his American friends, we are advised. He has learned to write with a few toes left on his feet, and to protect the paper thin covering on his stomach. This article contained not a single word about the crime implicit in this young boy’s condition. Some adult, American or Iraqi, devastated the body of a perfect young child.

It is important to protect adults from torture, certainly. But let’s start by protecting our children. Surely it is time to call our current war practices what they are: criminal abuse and – yes – torture of infants and children all across our small planet.