Child Soldiers: Militarism and American Youth

Collaborative Group

Professor Rebecca Jo Plant, Dr. Frances M. Clarke




Today, the term child soldier evokes images of youths brutally coerced into fighting wars in the developing world. But for most of American history, the participation of children in the military was not a distant or foreign phenomenon. Hundreds of thousands of minors fought in the nation’s major conflicts, up to and including World War II. Millions more were enrolled in schools or organizations modelled along military lines, or joined federally funded programs like the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. Plant and Clarke’s project is the first comprehensive analysis of debates over youth and militarism in America history, and offers the first account of changing attitudes toward and experiences of child soldiers themselves. The study reveals how debates around child soldiers reflected and helped to redefine understandings of childhood in America, as well as the historical legacies of this phenomenon in the realms of law, politics, culture, and familial life. It also provides deep historical context for thinking about such contemporary issues as the rise of military model public schools in the US Plant, a specialist in twentieth-century US history, the history of the psychological professions, and gender relations, and Clarke, whose previous research has focused on nineteenth-century wars, particularly the US Civil War, will co-author several articles and a book on this subject. They have previously co-written a forthcoming article for the Journal of America History on gender, race and the government’s memorialization of World War I. Award period: January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2015