Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Reality of War

What goes through the mind of a killer? I've always wanted to know what motivates others to kill. A bit odd i agree but still something that has fascinated me for a long time. I'm aware of the obvious ones; greed, jealousy, intoxicants etc...What i have never understood is people who kill because they seem to like it. I have never understood those with an appetite for gratuitous violence...

There was so much random violence that when i look back at the days of the war, i realize how lucky we were that we escaped relatively unscathed. My mental scars remain but are nothing compared to those who came closer to the violence than i did, those who participated.... Those who witnessed the rapes, mutilations and cannibalism were left scarred for life. For many years, bad things seemed to happen to people i knew but never to myself or immediate family, for that i am forever grateful. When i went back in 2008, people were getting on with life though, despite daunting challenges. A limited supply of safe drinking water, electricity, healthcare, education...the basics. Such is the infectious optimism Sierra Leoneans are born with that they never outwardly seem to be broken but most suffer inner torment. It is that spirit, the spirit of “God Dae” (loosely translated means “In God we trust”) that pulled many through the dark days....

“Una Gi me Wata” , .. “Give me some water” he was pleading desperately even though he barely had a mouth left. Half of his face had been blown off by shrapnel and he was bleeding to death. He had a hole in his face and all you could see was a mix of blood, bone and tissue as he stood there. He stumbled in and found a place to sit, still pleading for water. I will NEVER forget that man. This is not a scene from a movie but a home video shot by a brave soul of the bombing of the Army Headquarters in 1998 by ECOMOG forces. I was living in Guinea during the bombing campaign but i was extremely eager to catch a glimpse of what was going on. My mom had warned us to stay away from the videos that were circulating, but the forbidden fruit is always so appealing.

We had walked down the street to a friend's house, sat down in front of the T.V, and slotted the video in...I was excited to finally see the war up close and personal, I'd heard the shots, the shelling and i had even seen a live bombing raid but i still didn't have the images to connect everything...this was my chance.... 

It started with an execution, a group of young men, thought to be petty thieves were driven in on the back of huge army transport trucks to a deserted piece of land. The grass was about about knee height, and wet from the rains.They were maybe a dozen or so, shabbily dressed with desperately sad faces. They were begging for their lives, knowing that they only had minutes to live. Most claimed they had been wrongly accused, a few admitted their crime but pointed out that they were only thieves and thus should be spared. The soldiers were not in a conciliatory mood as they dragged them down from the trucks. They gave them them a few seconds to say last words to the camera and offered each of the condemned a cigarette. The rifles were readied as the poor men looked on, their eyes praying for a miracle. 

As each man finished a cigarette, their heads would be covered with empty bags of rice and they were led a few metres away. The soldiers would step back and the men would be brought down in a hail of bullets, their legs twitching as their lives were extinguished. They were all executed in the same cold blooded and inhumane manner. Needless to say i was terrified at this point of the video even though i was behind the safety of a T.V screen, as i couldn't quite understand what i had just seen.

The soldiers didn't seem to care that they were being taped, or that they were executing petty thieves. They didn't seem bothered, taking to their grim tasks without a care in the world. It was so arbitrary, so casual that it didn't feel real. I guess that was how i protected myself from the brutality that i just witnessed. Surely i convinced myself, this can't be real!! but it was, every single bit of it.

The video went on, showing clips of the aftermath of ECOMOG bombings...dismembered limbs, disfigured bodies. Men, women and children lying in pools of blood as their relatives screamed and shouted for help. I remember one scene when the camera zoomed in on a piece of clothing lying in blood in the middle of the road. Someone lifted it up and it was a severed arm. I felt like throwing up!!!The screaming of the scared, the injured and the bereaved would move even the toughest of people to tears. I was stunned into silence and absorbed each scene like my life depended on it.

I watched the rest of the video and it was more of the same...bodies, destruction, mindless violence, fear and hopelessness. Some of the dead just lay there, their limbs twisted into bizarre positions, intertwined with others. You couldn't tell what was what, what body part belonged to whom, there was that much blood.

I wrote this note out of frustration at seeing people on Canadian/U.S T.V preach war as tool of democratization or go on about its benefits. A necessary evil to “liberate” those they perceive as “oppressed”. They talk about precision bombing and laser guided missiles, when there is no such thing. They would have you believe that technology has made war less terrible for the innocent men, women and children that suffer the consequences. The reality of war is that it guarantees suffering, destruction and fear and precious little else. We lose a bit of our humanity everytime a conflict is sparked off....What is also VERY frustrating is that those who instigate conflicts, the so-called “hawks” are the ones that rarely ever volunteer for combat. As someone famous once said “I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in...”

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