America’s Many Wars On Children

It’s hardly unusual for me to take the news personally. It comes like a card with being a journalist with clinical depression. But some weeks the news almost feels tailor made to tare me down and the last few weeks have been like that with one story after another. A flurry of anti-trans laws have been proposed across middle America, seeking to restrict access for gender non-conforming minors to everything from athletics to medical care. Kids are literally drowning at the border just to be packed into shipping containers like sardines if they survive the Rio Grande. And in spite of endless talk of peace, the US continues to back a blockade in Yemen that promises to starve millions of children beneath the age of 5. All this may read like random savagery, but I can’t help but to detect a theme. All three of these stories show a clear disdain for children by the United States Government.

Youth rights has long been a personal crusade of mine because, as a genderqueer youth in a conservative Catholic setting, I suffered the trauma of being perpetually fucked with and stigmatized for reasons I couldn’t even completely comprehend. It’s amazing how many youth rights advocates can say the same and it’s sad that that seems to be what it takes to make adults in this country give a shit about children. If you’re under the age of 18 in this country, you are essentially someone else’s property, either an adult or the state that stands for them. In this country most kids can’t vote, can’t drive, can’t choose where they live or who they live with, can’t step outside unattended after dark, can’t work, and can’t make independent decisions about their education or much of anything else for that matter. They basically have the same rights as house pets and even when Americans crow about their rights, it’s usually just a paternalistic call to infantilize and protect them from their own free will with more restrictions and less autonomy. And it is this total lack of respect for the basic human rights of the young which color all three of the stories above and below.

The trans issue is often badly framed by both sides of the debate. The issue is much bigger than school sports, public bathrooms, and hormones. It comes down to the question of what gives the state the right to determine something as intimate as gender identity? This isn’t a matter of public record, it’s a matter of medical privacy. No one should be given the ability to restrain any individuals access to public facilities or private medical care simply because they happen to be a 40 year old civil servant with boundary issues. It’s as absurd as the entire notion of segregating children on the basis of something as therapeutically fluid as childhood gender expression. If you really want to regulate the athletics of minors, a job that strangely only seems to be available to adults, than do it based on something concrete like weight class and stop humiliating minors based on the nature of their genitalia. It’s fucking perverse and someone has to say it.

As bizarre as America’s fixation on childhood gender regulation is, I don’t think anything more perversely displays the canyon wide juxtaposition between state paternalism and respect for children as individuals like the current tragedy at the border. If you are legally underage and accompanied by an adult, really any adult, crossing the border, then your rights often evaporate automatically and you’re sent back to the tent village purgatory of Tijuana. But if you happen to be an unaccompanied minor, you are rewarded with the right to be obtained and warehoused like cattle. This is supposed to be a display of mercy, but it’s really just a display of the warped value American society puts on youth “safety.” What’s really happening is that these kids are being arrested for the crime of being a minor outside the possession of an adult authority figure. All this despite the fact that these are mostly teenagers who managed to travel from Guatemala to the Rio Grande with little more than a phone number of a stateside relative scrawled on their arm. Give them a goddamn phone and a bottle of water. Don’t make them choose between two rival cartels at either side of an invisible line who are both equally capable of violating their basic human rights.

All of this, like every domestic American sin, ultimately comes back to war. The crimes this empire perpetrates at home are but microcosms of how they run the world and define their very existence on the global stage. You see the ultimate American war crime, the one most prevalently brandished with reckless abandon by even the most liberal of congressmen is the crime of economic sanctions, a form of financial terrorism which seeks to disproportionately starve the children of nations out of compliance with America’s demand for total obedience. It essentially amounts to a tax on the lives of a populace’s most vulnerable members, and in almost any country that means children. America is currently engaged in this act of economic barbarism in over thirty countries, most of which rest in the Third World, and America has taken this measure to downright genocidal proportions on more than one occasion.

Yemen is one more occasion. In almost gleeful spite of his own kumbaya rhetoric regarding America’s complicity in the Saudi genocide in Yemen, Joe Biden has done quite literally nothing to end the UN sanctioned blockade on the poorest country in the Middle East that is on track to push more than 2 million children under the age of 5 into severe malnutrition and beyond. This after 5 years of a holocaust who’s casualties have been roughly 25% underage and have included targets like school busses and goddamn playgrounds. More than 2,300 children have been slaughtered between 2018 and 2020 alone, and I’m sick of feeling like I’m the only one who thinks this war on children matters. Biden’s neoliberal death squad, headed by that dead eyed prick, Antony Blinken, continues to kick the peace can down the road every time the Houthi rebels lash out at a Saudi oil facility as their children starve and nobody ever makes the connection unless they’re screaming from the fringes like me.

Children are human beings. They’re not just statistics for adults to pet or squash on a whim. They are unique individuals like anybody else and they need to be respected as such. Until we stop patronizing them at home and murdering them abroad, we shouldn’t expect to make anything in the way of progress as a society because broken, compliant, and silenced children all to often become broken, compliant, and silenced adults. This is the ultimate result of America’s many wars on children and it shouldn’t be exceptable to any of us. Children need more than our support, they need our respect and solidarity. Lets give them the autonomy that we were denied in our youth and end this ugly cycle of international abuse once and for all.

Nicky Reid is an agoraphobic anarcho-genderqueer gonzo blogger from Central Pennsylvania and assistant editor for Attack the System. You can find her online at Exile in Happy Valley.