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Thinking About Liberia’s Bureau of Veteran Affairs

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf recently nominated some retired military personnel to the Bureau of Veteran Affairs among others. When I first read the story about the nominations, I began to feel a tinkling sensation in my knees, arms, and at the back of my head without knowing specifically what that was all about. I could sense in those sentences that my body chemistry was responding to something seemingly out of place. I was not able to identify in one or two passing of a pair of eyes fixed on a Sony flat screen monitor for a little over five hours.

I went over the first few lines for the third time and noticed that the president had taken away the job of my brother, Joe N. Jah, who had been Assistant Superintendent for Development in Sinoe County since the president took office in 2006. While I did not take my elder brother’s unemployment lightly, my strange feeling was not all about his job loss anyway. In tough economic times like these, losing one’s job - whether you are working behind God’s back or not or whether one works voluntarily – job loss is very painful if not traumatic and so Ikept my feelings in check not to anger an elder sibling. I kept on searching why the strange feelings in my legs, arms and head. To my relief, it was about the “Bureau of Veteran Affairs.”

“Who could possibly be our veterans?” I asked myself. Then my mind sank in deep retrospect of the years I remembered most about Liberia - the war years. Those were the years when Liberians lost their senses and thought it was fun to kill, rape, loot, burn down and just act crazy. I remembered the check points, the curfews, the summary executions, the bomb shells, the tortures, the conscriptions and the cannibalism.

Yes, I remembered the interrogations at G-2’s and guide posts, and village outskirts, the imprisonment and the smell of rotten human flesh that the rebels and factional armies have come to love. Reflecting further, I imagined the rivers we saw flooded with corpses as we trekked on roads that led to nowhere; I could see fleeing old people, women and children being indiscriminately gunned down by people who would later be called veterans, law makers, big shots, and celebrities.

I also remembered that among the victims of today’s “veterans” who did not make it in their flight to the next town were seniors who included my own father, my teacher, the mother of my childhood friend and neighbor, and the list goes on and on.

It looks like magic when I match the faces of victims, especially the dead, with the faces of their murderers who have found themselves on the stage of the theatre of our decorated “heroes.” Does anyone see them or am I going out of my mind? Because I still hear the cries of those being shot or cut down like cork wood and the laughter and chants of their killers. I hear their victory songs from where I am hiding. I hear the triumphs of their spokespersons on BBC and VOA. Mingled with the cries of those in the slaughter house, I also hear the cheers of people rooting for the death team and gathering peanuts, cassava sticks and water to seal the deal. Does anyone else hear them too? Even if no one else believes me, Dave and Jenkins will; Linda and Beatrice and Sue can attest to those pictures that keep coming and going and the screams of women and children being defiled. We were all there; we felt it all to our souls. Bushie and P and Cyrus and 14 were not too small to remember.

Now the war has ended as I have been told for the third or fourth time. The first time they said the war ended was in 1991. That proclamation became false! The ones who may soon turn veterans re-started a more destructive war they coined “Operation Octopus” from guns they had buried and pretended that the war was over. Then, again, we were told the madness was over only to begin one more and another year after year. Being constantly caught in the crossfire during most of those wars after we were made to go to bed thinking that we may not run again, it is taking me a longer time to come in terms with it that the war has ended especially when those who kept on shooting are now decorated probably as officials or veterans.

I can’t think of who our veterans could possibly be. I would visit the veteran’s center upon touching the ground in Monrovia. I can’t wait! I may probably see the long teeth guy who had us at gun point and waited impatiently to press the trigger because my sister who was also in the group had lived in Yekepa, Nimba County for decades; I may see the one who put the knife at my throat urging me “soldier talk for theirself” after I vouched for my younger sister that she was not a member of any of the tribes condemned to die. If they are still alive, I may see those guys who made us push an old car filled with looted goods from Barnersville Estate heading for Kakata while ECOMOG jet bomber kept shooting at us. Small Soldier at Cotton Tree, Dirty Killer, Captain Do Bad, and our AFL neighbor who fired one shot every minute during those dreadful curfew hours could still be alive. Could they all be veterans too? Before the war that I have come to remember so much, there were soldiers. Some were sent up country to collect taxes or guard sanitation workers. They would beat the unemployed for taxes and brutalize the elderly for not cleaning their yards until their flesh got stick to the electric wires used as whips. Other soldiers did wonderful things, I am sure. And this is one reason why I am eager to know who our veterans really are. If we have a Bureau of Veterans Affairs just to mimic what the Americans have, that will be a wonderful thing to know and see as well.

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