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Book Review - Boy Soldiers

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1999, Volume 16, Number 1, pages 80-81. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - Boy Soldiers 

A. Hicklin. London, England: Mainstream Publishing.  U.S. distributor: Trafalgar Square, North Pomfret VT  05053, 1995,192-pages, paperback.

This book is based on the British case of two male adolescents (Richard Elsey and Jamie Petrolini) who in 1994 killed without provocation an adult male motorist, a stranger selected at random in a mutual pact.  The 192-page paperback has 12 chapters, 8 pages of photos, one appendix, but no index and no footnotes.

The author is a journalist and the book reads more like a newspaper feature article.  It provides little information about the variety of factors within each perpetrator that might help explain their violent act.  The effects of TV violence, military exploits, misguided test of maleness, and folie a deux are given passing reference, not careful scrutiny. We are left to apply our own insights and experiences to these brief references to possible causes of violence.

The chapters are short and easily read, describing the lives of the two boys, more typical than atypical, and not that much different than boys in most communities. These two boys limited their close relationships to each other.  Their close friendship isolated and insulated them from home, school, and others who would likely have provided healthier role models and a more positive value system. What filtered through to both of them was selective and reinforced their own narrowed assumptions and wishes. Their shared fantasies moved them further from societal values, ending in a random search for someone to kill.  Though not reported directly in the book, the implication is that the jump from internalized thoughts and drives into destructive and violent behavior is not as great as most people assume.

The book ends posing the question as to responsibility for this murder: the boys or “the cluttered battlefield of modern culture” (172)?  The author challenges us further with the suggestion that these schoolboy murderers may be on the “ugly side” of a future already here, which we are “too afraid, too ignorant, or too self deceiving to confront” (ibid.).  He speculates that “the cyberspace of virtual reality and the Internet” may increase crimes as “new forms of titillation excite desires for physical as well as visual stimulation” (ibid.).  These provocative insights and hard questions make this book a valuable addition to other case histories of previously “normal” personalities that go wrong.  Implied but not stated directly is the unpleasant reminder that we as a society must do all we can to restore and preserve a better respect for law and for each other.  Although apprehending and convicting criminals is an increasingly higher priority, it is, nonetheless, reactive, not proactive or preventive.  An equally high priority is to take better care of the body politic as well as those within it who endanger others.

Frank MacHovec, Ph.D.

Rappahannock Community College

Glenns, Virginia

Cultic Studies Journal Volume 16 Number 1 1999