COMMENTS ON DAVID LANCY'S REVIEW OF ENEMY LINES: WARFARE, CHILDHOOD, AND PLAY IN BATTICALOA
Article first published online: 11 MAR 2010
© 2010 by the American Anthropological Association
Special Issue: Rethinking Autism, Rethinking Anthropology: Guest Editors: Nancy Bagatell and Olga Solomon
Volume 38, Issue 1, pages 1–2, March 2010
How to Cite
TRAWICK, M. (2010), COMMENTS ON DAVID LANCY'S REVIEW OF ENEMY LINES: WARFARE, CHILDHOOD, AND PLAY IN BATTICALOA. Ethos, 38: 1–2. doi: 10.1111/j.1548-1352.2010.01109.x
- Issue published online: 11 MAR 2010
- Article first published online: 11 MAR 2010
“The child that you send over is nothing like the child that comes back to you,” said the mother of an American soldier recently returned from Iraq (Haberman 2007). To many a mother, her child is always her child, no matter the child's age. Childhood is, among other things, a relationship, just as motherhood is.
Biologically, a child is anyone under the age of puberty. But cultural views of childhood are more variable than biological ones. Children as well as adults make the meanings of childhood. Children as well as adults make culture. This is the point of the article by James and Prout that I cite in my book. Ashis Nandy, whom also I cite, argues that our behaviour toward children is as politically charged as our behaviour toward postcolonial peoples. We arrogantly proclaim what they are and should be, and make them conform to our proclamations. I tried not to do that.
I thank Lancy for learning from my chapter on Sri Lankan history. I thank him also for concluding that “there are no child soldiers in the Sri Lankan war.” What I think he meant more specifically is that he found no child soldiers in Sri Lanka similar to those found in some parts of Africa, and this is an important finding, given the current controversy over child soldiers, and the tendency by some to see them as all the same. A longish chapter of my book is devoted to girls who were legally “child soldiers”– trained and active members of a military organization who were under the age of eighteen. No they weren't, and yes they were, real child soldiers.
My book was entitled “Enemy Lines” not because my research was located “behind” such lines, but because of the many, largely invisible lines in this war between potential enemies and others. The most dangerous of these lines was the broad, hazy line separating childhood from adulthood – the time of life we Anglos call “adolescence.” Little children were not considered by any adult to be potential enemies. But as Tamil children grew older and bigger, they came to be seen by army personnel as potential Tigers. They were also seen by Tigers as potential recruits. That hazy line of adolescence was itself the enemy for these children.
Lancy says that “Children at play are also conspicuously absent from this book.” But the book includes extensive accounts of children, as well as adults, at play in Paduvankarai. Lancy probably has a different notion of “play” or “children at play” than I do, or than the people in Paduvankarai had. Descriptions of children involved in sports contests, talent contests, street theatre, and spontaneous play-acting and make-believe take up many pages of the book. Children's lives were not separate from those of adults. The play activities of adults and children were often commingled, and never far apart. It was not possible for me, as an adult, to watch how children played when adults were not part of the scene, if such play ever occurred at all.
Lancy writes, “I was unable to find any examples of “agency” on the part of a child, especially of them changing their society. Part of the reason, undoubtedly, is that there are so few children in this narrative.”
But my teachers in the field included babies, toddlers, children around six, children between the ages of ten and twelve, children in their early to middle teens – some assigned pseudonyms and many others not named. I saw, heard and wrote about each one of scores of children.
Children throughout exercised agency. None of their acts were earth-shaking. None of the children I knew blew up a truck, for instance. (Lancy cites the blowing up of a truck by the head of the LTTE in 1983 as an act of agency, which it surely was, but Prabhakaran was 29 years old at the time). If not death-dealing, the decisions of some of the children were life-changing, and not only for the children alone. A full chapter is about the small fifteen-year-old Menan. In my eyes, he was a child, and what he showed me changed me. Another full chapter is about the baby Vithusa, who, like many babies, while they are babies, changed the lives of her parents irrevocably. She knew what she was doing and why. Like Prabhakaran at 29, Vithusa at one could not predict the distant consequences of her behaviour. The human decisions that matter the most are not always those that grab the headlines.
Lancy calls my subtitle – warfare, childhood and play - a “red herring.” The book is about how those three states of being overlap and interact in remarkable ways. This was what I most wanted readers to see. But Lancy missed it, because he was looking for something else.
2007 A Soldier Home from War and a Mother Fighting Hard.
New York Times. November 13, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/13/nyregion/13nyc.html?_r=1&th&emc=th&oref=slogin
2004 Reconstructing Childhood: A Critique of the Ideology of Adulthood. In Bonfire of the Creeds: The Essential Ashis Nandy, ed. Ashis Nandy, 423-429. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.