Padre’s Cogitatio on Child Soldiers

September 2016


During the month of August I stayed in Borden, ON, for courses, and one of them was Intermediate Ethics. This year the Intermediate Ethics curriculum for chaplains was much more integrated with Defence Ethics Program (DEP). There were guest visitors from the DEP who took part in our discussions throughout the course.

One of the group research topics that drew my attention was the “child soldiers” who were engaged in a military battle. The term “child soldiers” contains an ironic nuance of dilemma—how could a little child be a solider with a leather weapon, who can kill my troops and who can also be killed, perhaps by them? If I were the soldier who confronted a child soldier in the theatre, what would or should I do? What if I had a son of the same age as the child soldier, and we were about to shoot at each other? These hypothetical questions show how deep this dilemma can be in the theatre.  

Two questions come across my mind and need to be answered to unpack the story of dilemma: What does it mean to carry a weapon? Is—or should—“protection” of my troop considered greater than anything else (e.g., moral standard not to kill a child)?

Let’s turn to the hypothetical situation mentioned above for a moment. What if I were a soldier in Korea—as I was about 26 years ago—and let’s say all my relatives lived in North Korea. What if the child soldier I confronted was one of my nephews? This situation is much more complex in its dilemma than the story of a young US marine that David Wood introduces in The Huffington Post with the title: “The Grunts: Damned If They Kill, Damned If They Don’t” (

Innocence is one of the terms that depict childhood, but is a child then innocent who wears a uniform and carries a weapon? Here overlap two contrast images: innocent childhood and a child who acts like an enemy in the theatre. Disaster! The same question has to be asked: what does it actually mean to wear the military uniform and carry a weapon? It changes not just perspective but also reality. By carrying a weapon, one crosses the border between two different worlds: innocent childhood and enemyhood. The child who acts in the theatre with a weapon may not see it as a dilemma. The one who sees him sees it as a dilemma.  

Padre Kim