In case you missed the news – or maybe just glanced over it, since that’s what happens now and then with events related to Africa – an international court yesterday convicted Liberian president Charles Taylor of abetting a horrifying array of war crimes, from murders and mutilations to rape and forcing children to fight as soldiers.
The accusations stemmed from an 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone, a small country in West Africa that neighbors Taylor’s Liberia. This was a particularly haunting, gruesome conflict, with many the worst episodes of violence revolving around kids.
There were children who were drugged and ordered to murder their families. Babies ripped out of mothers’ arms. Children beheaded in front of parents.
In Photos: Around the World in 16 BabiesThese stories still haunted the continent when I worked as a foreign correspondent there, well after the war in Sierra Leone had ended. I mostly tried to squeeze them out of my mind - they were too painful, even before I had a baby of my own. And when I had to write about child soldiers elsewhere – I spent some time in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is the focus of other international court child soldier prosecutions – I tried as much as I could to detach.
Now, I believe, I would find the stories unbearable.
The reaction to the verdict against Taylor has been mixed in West Africa, according to news reports. Some in his own country of Liberia feel protective of their president, news reports say, while others feel a monster has been felled.
My reaction, however, was clear.
I heard the court’s words over the radio as I was driving early in the morning from my home in Massachusetts to the suburbs of New York City to talk to college students about new media, journalism, and what it was like to report from Africa. I had to keep myself from turning the car around on the highway. I wanted to rush home, grab my daughter, hug and squeeze and kiss her and never let her go.
At Modern Parenthood, we write a lot about the challenges and controversies American parents face raising kids today. We write about mommy wars and bullying and stereotypes; we explore poverty and the impact of video games and the importance of play; we wonder about breastfeeding and preschools and vegetarianism.
In Photos: Around the World in 16 BabiesThese are all important topics. They matter to people.
But, my God, are we fortunate to be worrying about them.
There is some amazing, brutal writing out there this week about Taylor, Sierra Leone, and child soldiers. There are essays from witnesses and family members; detailed reports from journalists and human rights experts; memoirs from child soldiers. Check them out. Really.