“Children don’t fight on the front line”: juvenile fighters in the Great War

By Manon Pignot

English

Juvenile fighters were “visibly absent” from the Great War. Absent from official archives and yet surprisingly present on photographs. This article—as a premise to ongoing research—emerged from this singular presence/absence in the context of the centenary of the First World War, despite the fact that all aspects of the period are now deemed to have been uncovered. In fact, the subject is still new, notably in the countries of “old Europe”, where historians—contrary to Anglo-Saxon historiographers—have heretofore paid little attention to the issue. Yet there remains much to do: the issue of juvenile ­fighters—too young to fight legally and yet too old to stay behind at school—is often lost in wider considerations about volunteers. When historians do pay attention to the issue, their analysis usually focuses on juvenile military recruitment in terms of transgression: the transgression of a social order or the cultural transgression inherent to puberty. Although the transgressive interpretation is undoubtedly true and fascinating, it is nevertheless insufficient to comprehend a common phenomenon to all belligerent countries. This paper thus seeks to base itself on European transversality to consider this phenomenon through the lens of historic anthropology, that is to question it in terms of filiation and what can be considered as much as a rite of passage than taking action.
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