LEARNING TO KILL CHANGES A PERSON FOREVER.
Although small for his age, Samir held the AK-47 steady. He had been given a direct order to shoot the old woman in front of him, and he didn’t dare make a mistake. He had no idea why she had to die, but that was not his concern. She knelt on the ground sobbing for her life, however, her pleas did not move him. He calmly put the muzzle 12 inches from her head and fired a short burst. After many months in the militia he was now a trained soldier who could commit murder without remorse. The old woman had a ring on her finger and he knew he would lose his food rations if he did not turn it in to his commander. He tried to pull if off but it wouldn’t budge, so he used his knife and removed the finger with the ring still on it. The old woman was way past feeling any pain, and he did not want to give up his food that evening.
Learning to kill had not been easy. Up until the time Samir was forced into the militia he had never harmed anyone. His parents were dead so the soldiers gave him the option of joining up or watching them rape and kill his two older sisters. He joined – his sisters lived. It was not a difficult decision. After a few months he went on his first raid, attacking a small village in order to steal their meager food supplies. Most of the villagers were unarmed, but one man suddenly burst out of a hut and charged at him with a machete. Samir aimed his Kalashnikov, but his finger froze on the trigger. Just as the man was about to swing his weapon another soldier shot him in the back of the head. The dead man fell at Samir’s feet. The soldiers all laughed at his cowardice, and they ridiculed him for his unwillingness to fire, but then they warned him that if it ever happened again he would be severely punished. Samir believed them because he had seen what had happened to others who did not perform their duties. Sometimes they just disappeared, but often they had their hands severed to make sure they could never fight for a rival gang.
Several weeks later he was ordered to kill for the first time. It was the simple execution of an infant. He was shaking so badly he could hardly aim his weapon…but he had to do it. The threat on his sisters’ lives still stood, and now he had seen first hand what the soldiers could do to a girl. He struggled with all his might to hold back tears as he aimed at the helpless baby on the ground. His commander had made it clear that he would be beaten if he cried. He paused, took a deep breath and fired a single round into the bundle of flesh. The infant’s body was torn apart. Samir lowered his smoking gun and looked at what he had done. The soldiers would have to beat him because he could not help but sob.
Since he had exposed his aversion to murder he was considered less valuable than the other boys who showed no hesitation in killing. Being expendable meant his main role became that of a human shield. Anytime the leaders thought they might be entering a dangerous situation he was required to walk point. If someone was going to attack them he was the bait. On the first couple of missions he was terrified, but after months of being in danger he had become resigned to his fate. An exhausting numbness had set in. He had seen so much death and suffering, some of it from his own hand, that he no longer felt the same level of shame and guilt that he once had. In the beginning he’d kept track of the number of people he executed but eventually he quit because he didn’t want to think about what he was doing.
Samir had been in the militia for 24 months, and he thought he had committed every evil act a human being was capable of, until he was forced to take part in a gang rape. His participation was limited to holding the girl down while the older soldiers took turns, but it was sickening just the same. When they were finally done he was afraid he would be ordered to shoot her, but rather than waste the ammunition one of the senior officers pulled out his knife and slit her throat. There was a brief gurgling sound and then silence. He couldn’t help but think about how he was in this position now so that the same fate would not happen to his sisters…but he knew this girl was someone’s sister, and what he had helped them do to her was unspeakable.
That was the turning point for Samir. His mental state began to deteriorate. He no longer cared who he hurt or who he killed. Young or old, weak or defenseless he could now murder helpless human beings without giving it a second thought. His humanity had been drained away, and he had become a cold-blooded killer. He knew he would never see his sisters again, which meant he would never know if his decision to join the militia had actually saved their lives, but he knew in his heart it had cost him his. There was no turning back now.
It was another raid on another village. There had been rumors that a rival clan had weapons stored there. The buildings were to be burned, and any inhabitants that fought back were to be executed. As the assault began they encountered stiff resistance. As it turned out, the village did house weapons, and many of the people knew how to use them. The fighting was intense. It was hard to see because of all the smoke, and the continual gunshots made Samir’s ears ring, but he took aim and fired at anything that moved. After what seemed like an eternity one of the commanders made his way over to him and ordered Samir to maneuver around behind a row of huts on the west side of the village. He was to check and see if he could find where the weapons were being stored. Samir knew that attempting to get back there without being detected would be dangerous, but he had no choice, he had to obey. Trying not to be seen, he carefully made his way to the last hut. As he moved along the back wall the drifting smoke obscured his vision. Slowly the haze lifted and a small figure came into view. He had come face to face with another boy holding an automatic rifle. They were 15 feet apart. For one brief moment Samir froze – the other boy did not. His young enemy fired a burst of shells into his chest, and Samir’s lifeless body fell into the dirt.
One child had killed another child.
AT THE AGE OF TEN THE SOLDIER WAS DEAD.