TO EVERY WAR, THERE ARE NO WINNERS
Today I am sitting in my home here in Pennsylvania where the whether is most often tolerable. Suddenly, I feel like playing around the web, browsing for photos of Liberia. It is not unusual to feel homesick and begin to search for photos of what used to be, only to discover that those images are no more. The photos from Liberia are very painful, sad, a reminder that war is horrible, that what happened to us is happening to others right now somewhere in the world in Dafur, Sudan, in other parts of Africa, in Colombia, in Iraq, in Afghanistan , in Palestine, and all over the world where wars are raging continuously. And we go on with our little lives as if all is well, as if some women, children, old people, the ill and the elderly are not falling from bullet wounds, being massacred in whole families. Look here, I am not trying to make my readers feel guilty about the world’s problems, you hear me. I am not trying to be some dark angel out here, trying to dig up the world’s pain to pass around on slates of metal for everyone to have a bite of. No. I am here saying that we are all sitting here complaining about how hot the sun is or how bad the food we have to eat at our little restaurants is when the rest of human kind is suffering out there in our little wars.
Now look at these shells. I recall walking on shells like these on ELWA Road in Monrovia when my family and I were fleeing the fighting soon after the horrific massacre of more than 700 Liberians by Samuel Doe’s soldiers in the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on July 29, 1990. This was also a few days after Samuel Doe’s troops retaliated against Charles Taylor’s infamous Independence Day speech of July 26, 1990 by shelling ELWA Missionary compound on July 27, 1990. That shelling took place while twenty-five thousand refugees were taking shelter at the Mission that week. As we fled Congo Town on August 1, 1990, my family and thousands of other refugees, we came to discover that bullet and rocket shells, along with the decomposing bodies of fellow Liberians had taken over the streets that week.
Why am I bringing up all this, you’d ask? Why am I trying to get you or the world to remember these horrific things?
During one of my quests to dig up the Liberian civil war, I was on a research trip designed by myself to have Liberian women retell their stories for me on camera. That was a very difficult mission, of course. Many wanted to forget they had lost their whole families; many wanted to have nothing to do with me. Why bring it up now? Some asked.
I am not bringing up anything. I am trying to remind Liberians and the world that warlords and war criminals who engage in destroying nations around the world should not go unpunished simply because we believe it could have been us. Common, we need to help out the Sierra Leoneans who had the gust to stand up to a powerful warlord and ask him to pay for his cruelty to humanity. We cannot sit by and let Charles Taylor and all those who destroyed our past and our families and our children and have caused Liberia to continue to be a place of death to go on into newer governments and live on happily ever after.
Liberians like to forget, like to shove everything under the rug or underground, to pretend that everything is now okay, now that we have a sitting President and some of us are now in government, all is well. No, that’s not true. All’s not well yet. We need to talk about it, bring it up so that we can begin to heal, we need to know who can be brought to justice and who can be forgiven.
We sit here in the Diaspora, many of us, scattered around the globe, longing some day to really really go back home, after all has been damaged, we sit here and we sit as we’ve done forever, on the sideline as Sierra Leoneans bring our Liberain made warlord, Charles Taylor to trial. And I am told that there are Liberians in Liberia who still support Charles Taylor. We sit on the sideline as always, waiting for someone else to pick up our pieces, for someone else to clean up our mess. We do not like to rock the boat. We sit by and we say, “they got him-oh!” But we do nothing. We want to continue to live on others doing it for us, so we do not say anything.
Look at this child killer/soldier. Before Liberia, was there anything like this in the world? After the war, many of these children are now men and women. Many are dying out. Every day the phone rings that a small cousin you left at home fifteen, sixteen, eighteen years ago was now in his thirties, but died suddenly from lack. There is lack of everything- lack of education, lack of jobs, lack of civil behavior, lack of health care, lack, caused by Taylor and all his warring friends and enemies.
Why am I bringing this up, my people, why, you’d like to ask if you are Liberian. “Oh, you girl, stop talking like that!” My cousin Ruth often says. We want to forget, but forgetting is wrong. We need to forgive, not forget. We must first learn to know who and why, we must know, and in knowing, learn to talk about it, so we can find healing. But those who need to pay with their money and with going to prison forever, should go to prison.
Charles Taylor has money that he gained from killing our families, our relatives, destroying our people, and we must make the Liberian government cease everything he owns, everything his wives own, everything his co-supporters own. This wealth belongs to our country. If Liberia can ask others to give us money, our President must make Charles Taylor give back what he has taken from our beloved Liberia.
“Oh, you girl, don’t do this-oh,” some of you will say. My auntie in Liberia would say, “Kpeh!” with her lips crushed in that Grebo fashion to indicate to me with her finger, “You’re getting to be too much, my daughter, stop it-oh.”
But I am not getting to be too much. Let us make an effort so no one will do what was done to our nation again. Just recently, we heard that some former Liberian officials familiar to all of us were attempting to overthrow the President of Liberia. If this is true, then it is indeed sad to hear.
Let me conclude with something beautiful for you: Every time I recall my participation in the 17 International Poetry Festival of Medellin, I am mesmerized with peace. The people of Colombia have fought a civil war that has become even more complicated after forty years of fighting. As I walked the streets of the city of Medellin, I was constantly reminded of the hundreds of thousands who had died in that country even as the city I was walking in went on. During the poetry readings, it was not unusual for someone to begin to weep quietly with hope that one day their war would end and their country would be united again as one country.
I connected to those beautiful hardworking people. I saw how fellow poets had not sat by the sideline, but by their pens, had made a difference in these good people. How is it a country can be at war for forty years, can have continuous killing of innocent people, and the people still have hope?
We can identify with war because we saw the anger and the evil and the capability of war- destruction. But now that the war is over, even we can make sure we are not foolishly counted among those who are believed to be supporters of those who killed hundreds of thousands of our people. When people say that Taylor has strong support in Liberia, we should all be very angry. No one, whether Taylor or another Liberian, who destroyed our country should find support in Liberia or among Liberians- no one, I say, no one!!!!!