To kill another person over a disagreement is a crime. To kill thousands of people over a disagreement is a war, and it is perfectly legal. But what kind of person becomes a leader at the expense of his own people’s lives? If he has their blood on his hands why would he be any more compassionate at ruling the country than he was at taking control? If power is seized with savage force than it stands to reason that the victor will rule the same way. If someone is willing to massacre the innocent to become a “leader” he will surely slaughter more people to remain in power. War leads to dehumanization. People are no longer viewed as equal human beings with basic rights. In times of armed conflict they become targets of hatred and abuse, the rules of civilization break down, acts of brutality become common place, and the unimaginable becomes reality.

In developing nations the end of an armed conflict does not deliver hope, or prosperity, or dignity or tolerance. It does not inspire people to lay down their weapons and embrace peace. The aftermath of war in poverty stricken areas usually means someone is ruling over a land that has been devastated. The inhabitants are ravaged by disease and hunger. Many of the young men have been killed or wounded, and there are hundreds of thousands of orphans to care for. What little economy existed before lays in ruins, and the various enemies quickly re-arm and get ready to fight again. It becomes a cycle that repeats itself over and over again, with the innocent being exploited with each new wave of fighting.

A war torn land is the perfect breeding ground for extreme poverty, and once it gets a foothold, it can continue for generations. With each new conflict, the misery becomes more widespread. People in certain parts of the world live their entire lives under the relentless horror of armed conflict. They never get the chance to experience peace – war is all they know. Children live with AK-47s and landmines as part of their daily struggle. They often grow up without parents, and they try to survive, as best they can, after being wounded and maimed. They never have the opportunity to experience childhood. And since war is all they’ve ever known, it is not surprising that these children grow up thinking it is the only way to solve their problems. When they reach the age of 12 they are forced into the militia where they become the very thing they once feared. There is no escape.

If you are a starving young boy who has lost every member of his family, joining the militia can be tempting. They offer food, medical care and a certain level of protection. Suddenly carrying a kalashnikov and acting tough doesn’t seem so wrong. But the discomfort he is trying to erase is nothing compared to the guilt and shame he will feel the first time he is forced to shoot another child or participate in a rape. He will soon be committing acts that he never would’ve believed he was capable of only months before. And in order to do these things and survive, a type of numbness will set in. It is a type of denial that convinces him that his victims deserved what they got because they were somehow less human than him, or they were born into the wrong clan or they possessed things that he wanted for himself. He will actually begin to believe that exterminating entire groups of human beings is not only acceptable but necessary…but he is not really a soldier, he is just a scared and lonely child who has been taught to kill.

War is often just a cover for criminal activity. The excuse of being a “warrior” allows someone to act in barbaric ways towards those who seem different from them. They mistakenly believe that it gives them a license to murder, rape, loot and pillage anyone who might be in their way. They feel no remorse for stealing the food sent to starving children. They suffer no guilt about confiscating the medical supplies that could keep tens of thousands of people alive. They place mines without regard for the safety of civilians. They think nothing of assaulting a helpless stranger. They have stripped away the dignity of their victims. They no longer see them as fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, but as objects that must be tossed aside or eliminated.

They believe that being a “soldier” gives them a title that allows them to do the unspeakable. It is the mob mentality at work. If enough people do something wrong it doesn’t seem wrong anymore because everyone is doing it. The sheer volume of cruelty makes it seem less personal than a one on one act of violence. The fog of war blinds individuals to the immorality of their actions, and if they behave savagely long enough, they become indifferent to the suffering of their victims. That allows their brutality to become even more frequent and severe, and they lose their sense of humanity.





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