War and Forgiveness
I have come away from war with a sense of guilt which for a long while I could not explain. I wondered what use it would be to exhibit photographs of faraway wars, until I decided that the most depressing thing about working in war zones was not the fear of death. It is seeing the same things, perhaps the seeds of the same things within ourselves and in the way we treat our own people.
Disease, war and horror weren’t the creatures to exit Pandora’s box. The last to exit was hope. If someone as atrocious as the general can attempt to redeem himself, regardless of whatever idea of justice prevails or its execution and regardless of the good or bad opinion of anyone, there is hope. Before he begs for forgiveness, he had to forgive himself. True healing comes with confession first and then hopefully forgiveness. Healing for all sides. And that is hope. Maybe for all of us.
From 2007, I traveled to Iraq, Afghanistan and Liberia. I immersed myself in stories and on occasions experienced fear for my own life. Unlike many people, I was fortunate enough to leave. The former Liberian warlord “General Butt Naked” got his name from fighting stark naked and claims to have personally killed more than 20,000 people during Liberia’s civil war. He commanded his child soldiers to commit unspeakable crimes and enforced his command with incredible brutality. The general is now an evangelist named Joshua. I accompanied him as he walked the earth, visiting villages where he had once murdered, seeking forgiveness. I expected him to be killed outright but what I witnessed shocked, revolted and often uplifted me. In the midst of incredible poverty and loss, I watched people who had nothing, sometimes absolve a man who had taken everything from them. These events created more questions, sometimes intanglible, than answers for me, about the true nature of justice, forgiveness and redemption . We look upon victims and perpetrators in these wars as others far away. We prevent ourselves from seeing ourselves in them. We do not allow ourselves to see what we fear the most, and which is so much a part of our deepest potentials. I am fascinated with the former African general who was once a mass murderer because he represents the possibility of what we could be, for worse and also maybe for better.