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Let's say a nation in a comic book universe
Wanted to create a unit of enhanced lifeform super-soldiers, taking otherwise expendable kids, trying to duplicate documented Origin Events on them, then training them to be loyal and competent troops. So, in these effete days they might run into a legal issue over the child labour angle.

Could they disguise it as a sports program? Or dance? Nobody seems to mind what gets committed to make athletes and dancers.

Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comment(s); comment here or there.

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Four words - Sunnydale High swim team.

You forgot gymnasts. The amount of training, self-denial and bullying has amounted to child abuse. Also using drugs happens

Now, I love elite gymnastics, but it sure troubles me the methods that have been used in the past.

The methods are still being used. Don't kid yourself. And in China, it's probably worse than you can imagine.

The Chinese would do exactly what James proposed without even bothering to camouflage it, and without really using "expendable" kids (unless you consider that children in rural poverty in China are definitionally expendable, which the Chinese government may) if they promised that the family of the super-soldier kid would be well-off in perpetuity. They pretty much already do this to recruit potential elite gymnasts.

Globally, the escalation of athletic performance goals to the point that mere professionalism requires an all-consuming dedication from a very early age is probably the worst thing to happen to all branches of sports and athletics.

You mean like high-school American football?

Among other things. Nowadays, in some parts of the country, promising football talent is recruited well before high school. Twelve-year-olds start getting watched by the big football feeder high schools.

Even for less consuming sports, there's increased pressure to dope, or at least to devote your entire life to shaping your body in a certain way.

Apparently a big part of China's enforcement of the one child policy was refusing official government documentation to second-or-later children. Meaning no government benefits, no banking, no legal residence anywhere. I don't recall any word on the children of those folks but my suspicion would be that they're denied documents as well since there's no documentation for their parents...

So carrot or stick approach: Stick, just grab them, legally they don't exist anyway. Or carrot, "Your kid will get official paperwork, free schooling and training from elite instructors, and upon completion of training will enter government service with bonus ranks. All you have to do is sign this paperwork saying you'd like for them to enter the superpower initiative program."

Pretty much every country variation of this available. How many who entered the US without proper documentation will go for an offer of, "You get legal permanent residence and your kid you brought with you gets citizenship, a scholarship to this boarding school, rotc, and a college scholarship." With indoctrination and empowering during the boarding school.

IIRC it's not that the children are denied documentation - it's that local officials don't register their births, for reasons of benevolence (or because they're running close to the district's "allowed" number of supernumerary birth waivers). The children go on the books once they start school, but that doesn't count against the area's "births over quota" statistics...

Sounds like the plot of the manga/anime, Gunslinger Girl. The Italian Social Welfare department took young girls who were sick, injured, abandoned by their families[1] etc. and cyborged and mentally programmed them into assassins used against local terrorist groups. The first prototypes (Elsa and Angelica) were a bit rough around the edges and broke in rather unpleasant ways. Not a happy happy fun story but engrossing.

[1]The back stories of the girls, when revealed tended towards the macabre -- one was rescued from a pedophile snuff movie studio set, another was hospitalised after her father tried to kill her for the insurance money etc. One of the second generation girls (Petrushka) was a ballet dancer who attempted suicide when she got bone cancer that was going to require her legs to be amputated to stay alive.

Oof, yeah, I liked the way the series would bounce between cool fight scene and reminder that the SWA was screwed up at a fundamental level, nice interaction between a girl and hander, reminder that yes things are still Just Not Right.

But as you point out given their pasts there's an argument that the SWA's brainwashing and stripping (most of them) of their memories has left the girls happier (well, not Elsa, sigh Lauro what were you thinking?).

Well. You have just triggered a novel subplot--or possibly a novella--that is now busily writing itself using my brain. Unfortunately, not one that will fit into remaining plot space in the present book.

In other words, yes, they probably could.

OK, so now a non-initiate shows up to open class:-) what happens next?

Again, see "Sunnydale High swim team", AKA Buffy S2ep20 "Go Fish"

Some very bizarre behaviour from the modified athletes.

Why should there be any open classes? This is very expensive training! Once in a while they have auditions or tryouts for the junior classes. And there are competitions with other schools...but the little ones have not been enhanced all that much, and the older students know how to hold back enough so they don't look very conspicuous.

From the Incredibles: "But I promise I'll slow up. I'll only be the best by a tiny bit!"

Sports would make it easy to disguise. If you were clever you could make most of them look like accidents to the individual members. yes, someone running the numbers might get suspicious, but you could also suppress reports of any of the "origins" that weren't so obvious as to be unavoidably on the news.

That assumes you're in a reasonably open society; as others have pointed out, in China or North Korea you don't even need to bother with the handwaving.

Just remember not to OVERDO your experimentation...

I know a Phil Foglio drawing when I see one.

How about a Boy Scouts type program? Or something like the Air Cadets in Canada?

Keep an eye on what those 4-H kids are actually learning to raise...

I'm imagining that the adult supervision turns out to be Hagrid.

Claim it's a program for giving kids a leg-up in the entertainment/beauty pageant industry. From what I've seen, you can get away with nearly anything claiming it's so Billy can become the next Tom Hanks or Susan can be Miss America and be groped by some orange-hued halfwit.

"We want you to write it down--to camouflage it. Only for the present, of course. Once the thing gets going we shan't have to bother about the great heart of the British public. We'll make the great heart what we want it to be. But in the meantime, it does make a difference how things are put. For instance, if it were even whispered that the N.I.C.E. wanted powers to experiment on criminals, you'd have all the old women of both sexes up in arms and yapping about humanity. Call it re-education of the mal-adjusted, and you have them all slobbering with delight that the brutal era of retributive punishment has at last come to and end. Odd thing it is--the word 'experiment' is unpopular, but not the word 'experimental.' You mustn't experiment on children; but offer the dear little kiddies free education in an experimental school attached to the N.I.C.E. and it's all correct!" --C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

There seems to be either an MCU canon or MCU (Marvel?) fanon conceit that Red Room's Black Widow program has been covered up as a ballet school.

Not fanon. In a Marvel Knights series, part of the brainwashing that Black Widow and her fellow agents received was believing they'd been trained by the Bolshoi. In the MCU, ballet training was also specifically part of the background.

Aside from the training in firearms and poisons, is there any difference between the Black Widow program and a ballet school?

Not quite the same thing, but Steven Barnes "Charisma" touched on this idea. Also wasn't there a Westlake story about the sudden widespread use of science in sports (and crime).

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