So it’s time to talk about the war

I haven’t asked much about the war. It seems to me to be in poor taste. I know about the extremes and it seems that most people have in some way overcome what they saw/experienced, left so as to remain safe, or just don’t like talking about it. It’s been 6 years now since the war ended. “It wasn’t one long war, it was in pieces. Two years here or there.” As a conflict studies student, I hear about the worst of war, rarely about how those who survived did so. That is much more interesting to me. But I know better than to ask. Luckily, I have stumbled upon a lot of talkers so I may not have to say a thing to understand how it happened. What life was like.

The general/maintenance manager talked about the war to me on my first night here. He talked about people coming and salvaging the zinc roofs of DEN-L again and again. DEN-L is fairly young, it wasn’t incorporated until 2000 but was definitely here for the end of the war (which ended in 2003). GM emphasized rebuilding and making anew from what was destroyed. He called the US a troublemaker, saying that Matt had also said the same thing. Looking for validation? Yes, I said, the US is a big troublemaker. He complained that during the war the people of Liberia always had hope that the US would step in and stop the deaths. The US said nothing for a very long time. He said that Charles Taylor would never have left without US intervention.

In fact, in the late 1990s, when there was actually an election, the slogan for Taylor was “he killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I’ll vote for him.” I learned that last fall when I was researching Liberia. At that point, I thought the saying just showed an end of respect for life, even one’s own. I now see how misinformed I was. The slogan shows that the only way people thought they could get peace was by voting for Taylor. Otherwise, Taylor would just keep the war going. Unfortunately, the war didn’t stop once Taylor was “legitimately” elected. And the people at DEN-L had to flee several times, once under fire. Gbarnga was Taylor’s headquarters for most of the war, it seems. So it was a likely target for rebel uprisings.

It leads to the new question in my research: how do you create a culture where human rights are respected when the state does not recognize or respect human rights?

I’ll come back to that and feel free to comment, I can use any feedback, of course.

One thing I did want to mention, as it gave me a better understanding of the situation at DEN-L, was something I read in Miriam’s thesis. She was talking about these tough times for the organization (her thesis is on how an organization stays together during conflict), and one thing she pointed out was the many of the founders felt that the organization had left some of its radical ideals of the early days as the violence increased. This is because some of the documents suggesting any kind of anti-government slant were destroyed during the fighting, by DEN-L staff. Honestly, from what I know about the brutality of the war, anything that might have been construed as anti-government (which of course would mean pro-rebel even if that wasn’t the case) could get you killed. It’s difficult to be radical when faced with death and when you want to maintain operations.


5 thoughts on “So it’s time to talk about the war

  1. You would be surprised how open people are about the whole thing after you know them a little bit. You can ask about pretty much anything with most people and they will share with you.

    And yes, I did indeed tell them that the US was quite often a trouble maker around the world. I also let them know that we were often a force for good as well, but that we were not nearly as benevolent as I wished that we were. How are his children doing by the way? He just lives up the way a bit if you ever get the chance to go to his house. His wife is also quite lovely.

  2. glad to see i can leave comments now! (i couldnt last week, i tried)

    in reference to creating a culture where human rights are respected, i offer a gross simplification – a friend once told me to look people in the eyes and say “cmon, be reasonable”.

    so, just get everybody to do that. easy enough.


  3. I was just talking to Dennis Yourke. He lived in Lofe untill he was 18 in 1991. He and his sister fled the country and were refugees in Sierre Leone for 10 years. By some miracle he was reunited with his parents outside a camp. Then he came to Cleveland through a church organization and has bottled Great Lakes beer ever since. Small world huh? Take care, Nick

  4. Tell Dennis I'll be in Lofa sometime soon.

    Matt, I don't mean to twist your words, but you know how memory can be selective, so I'm repeating the selectively remembered events. And I thought Joe lived at DEN-L? He was the one telling me all that (luckily, there are enough Joe's that I don't feel I'm giving away his anonymity by giving his name!). I have met his son but not his wife…

  5. Ha… no Joe, doesn't live at DEN-L, he just stays there because he likes watching the TV at night. He has a house up the road a little bit.

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