Tucker Carlson enraged millions this week when in talking about Kyle Rittenhouse, he asked “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would”. I think Tucker had something very important to say, but unfortunately, he is Tucker and he is not necessarily interested in bridging gaps. I am. So, let me have a go. I would like to preface this by saying: a good way to think of any famous battlefield throughout history is a tangled mess of small tragedies.
In times that are tumultuous and violent, many young men have felt compelled to go and search for purpose/excitement/adventure. At the beginning of WWI, England fielded what infantry they could to assist France in holding the line against the advancing Germans. A rag tag, but heavily experienced army of 75,000 nicknamed the “Old Contemptibles” fought bravely on the battlefront as England went full force into recruiting on the homefront. Some of the recruitment strategies break my heart; the nation targeted the egos of its young men with initiatives like the “White Feather” campaign where women would place white feathers in the caps of young men who had not yet enlisted for them to wear in shame. Millions enlisted and the members of the first recruiting classes grew one inch in height (on average) in basic training because so many of them had forged their age in order to enlist.
In World War II, the Third Reich took advantage of young men’s desires to be useful to their beleaguered nation and repurposed the Hitler Youth to serve in combat roles. At the close of the war, as the angry and deadly Red Army marched towards Berlin with vengeance on its mind, General Helmuth Weidling, commander of the last defense of Berlin, mustered as many fighters as he could. The leader of the Hitler Youth, Artur Axmann, presented his “troops” to Weidling, ready to die in this last-ditch effort to save their country. Weidling, reportedly, was so enraged that he could not speak. When he once again gained his vocal ability he sputtered, “You cannot sacrifice these children for a cause that is already lost” and ordered them to stand down. In the “confusion” of the battle that order was lost, and the Hitler Youth divisions joined the fray. They fought with ferocity and bravery… and were slaughtered. Thousands of boys between the ages of 12 and 18 littered the battlefield in oversized helmets and uniforms.
The point I am trying to make is sometimes people paint narratives that draw young men into conflict. Young men often lack the reasoning capabilities to help them understand that they should not involve themselves and may make the situation worse (source: I was a young man). Seeing all the footage and pictures of Kyle Rittenhouse before and during the incident, makes me think of those young men being tricked into offering their bodies needlessly for slaughter. If you can get past the fact that he is walking around a riot with a long gun on his person ready to use, you can see all the footage of him running away from heated incidents. It is too early to tell, but I see him as someone who did not come to Kenosha to kill, but rather to help and to “do what was necessary”. Only, none of it would have been necessary if he had stayed home. If Kyle was smart and had good people around him helping him understand what part he should be playing in this, he would not have been in Kenosha armed with a rifle.
The BLM movement has not done enough to distance itself from the strong-arm intimidation tactics, rioting, and looting of some of its participants. The rioting has been called a justified expression of anger or pent up aggression. “Property damage is nothing compared to the black lives being lost”. There has even been some vague and deniable support from high profile politicians. However true the feeling of anger may be (and I do believe it is true for some rioters), if a movement lashes out in anger, they can easily be portrayed as a movement destroying what others love (e.g. small businesses, statues). How many of the millions of young men in this country will see BLM as mobs terrorizing the country they love and hear the call of duty? I don’t think Kyle will be the last and I fear we are approaching the point of no return.
P.S. If you needed more reason to be bothered, Artur Axmann, Hitler Youth leader, fled near the end of the Battle of Berlin, but was soon captured. He was tried in Nuremburg and found guilty of no war crimes and was allowed to go on with his life. He died in 1996 in Berlin, not far from where thousands of young boys gave their lives at his word for a lost cause fifty-one years prior.
P.P.S. I should also include that there are plenty of records of young girls joining violent conflicts. Less common, but equally tragic.
P.P.P.S. In light of recent events, I felt compelled to write and publish what was one of my future essay topics: The Second Civil War. This will be a sporadic series and it will have limited entries, but they will all be titled similarly.
BBC article about teenage soldiers in WWI.
Short paper on the Hitler Youth
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