October 7, 2010

It’s All Understood

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Alarms of distress shriek through your head once you’ve become aware that you’re immobilized within a rogue lucid dream. Anxiety begins to consume you, gnawing away any feelings of security and comfort, and no matter how much you fight to try and run away, you just can’t wake up. Losing control of the subconscious is one of the darkest places to find yourself. There is no escape from fear and panic in this numinous cell of dormancy, you are alone and trapped within the hauntings of your nightmares.

Our terrors are stowed juxtaposed to the biological triggers of panic — and when necessary guilt, regret and shame — in a tiny almond-shaped knot of neurons called the amygdala.

America’s top-tier schools have been investing heavily in research targeted at identifying fear-inhibiting proteins. Harvard produces a line of propranolol pills that, once swallowed, conquer the amygdala and nip emotions at their core. But the world’s largest collegiate endowments are not necessary to short-circuit the very wiring of primal emotions like fear and empathy. The lobotomy and conditioning-out of emotional reactions is done without any lab coats every day to the 300,000 child soldiers from around the world.

Recruitment begins with children as young as seven or eight. In central Africa these children are carried away by the dozens from villages during rebel raids, many times torn right from their mothers’ arms at home. In the lawless Democratic Republic of the Congo there is no one to defend village children and families from the sadistic tactics of modern African rebel warfare. The hit and run guerrilla campaigns allow small groups of rebels to march from village to village seemingly undetected, if it wasn’t for the path of sawed-off body parts sprinkled between what remains of the charcoaled and pillaged homes.

No village is safe. Fate is in the hands of those with the guns and machetes, and Joseph Kony, mystical leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army has decided the destiny of more than 30,000 abducted boys and girls and has molded generations of Congolese children’s minds to abide by the LRA mantra of havoc and murder.

The LRA is one of the deadliest rebel groups in Congo today. They have a small corps of commanders, and just a few hundred soldiers, but they have managed to rampage through four border nations killing more than 2,000 people and kidnapping entire villages in the last two years. The tragic irony is that of the 200 soldiers that compose the LRA’s forces today, many were kidnapped child soldiers themselves, or offspring of the women and girls that were raped while in captivity.

Today in Congo one-third of all combatants are under 18. The children’s underdeveloped psyche allows for easy indoctrination of the LRA’s values of violence, resulting in extremely loyal soldiers. With no experience and a high expectancy to perish, they are plenty replenishable. Waterlogged pits and flogging are part of the curriculum for anyone who disobeys orders, and deserters from the frontline are executed on the spot.

An entire army is being sustained by a cycle of abductions and malicious reeducation of children. What one would presume is unsustainable, has become the Rebel2.0 model for funding and maintaining an army. Modern African warfare has evolved past the need to win people’s hearts and minds. Rebel factions no longer need a righteous plight to keep them fighting; chaos, weapons, cash and power motivates the LRA just fine.

The shift unto guerrillas fighting for resources and not for a cause is occurring, not just in Congo, but in 15 other African states. Most have been dubbed the African “un-wars” because they are conflicts without true purpose, or direction, and are continuing today because instability breeds profitability. By the ton load, timber, gold, diamond, copper, tin and other precious minerals and resources are being trucked and extracted from African nations by transnational’s.

These wars serve as institutional distractions for both the people and their fledgling democratic governments. Transnational mineral corporations trade cash for conflict minerals through subsidiaries and shell corporations. Today the United Kingdom is being sued in High Court for failing to list U.K. companies that are in violations and funding the rebels in Congo.

Also failing Africa is the World Bank, — meddling in domestic affairs with agenda-driven policies that don’t create jobs, or spur economies, or uplift the poor in Africa. Rather, the third-largest gold producer in all of Africa is now only a small minority shareholder of its goldmines with the much needed revenue owned by transnationals. Because of World Bank policy, Mali, whose nation’s gold accounts for 75 percent of the country’s export, yet only sees gold as 8 percent into the country’s GDP.

There is a very pessimistic view of Africa among those who lead our international regulatory organizations. The U.N. Security Council’s peacekeeping missions fail constantly and are followed up by excuses rather than swift corrective actions to assure atrocities don’t occur again. The U.N. Secretary Ban Ki stated on Wednesday, “we must be realistic, the sheer geography is too large, the number of peacekeepers too small, our resources too limited.” Africa is large, but the U.N. MONUSCO troop headquarters in Congo was only a few miles away from a village where 300 people were raped and tortured from July 30 to Aug. 2 of this year. It is pitiful that entire sections of African cities where American expatriates or citizens of European descent reside can be evacuated within minutes when intel arrives of an upcoming insurgency, yet the same logistical resources are not being made available or ordered for use for the people of Africa.

The world is failing Africa every day a child gets kidnapped, raped and forced to hack off the limbs of other children in order to gain experience as a fighter. Obama’s plan for action for Congo and the LRA is due out this November. A strong military presence is required to prevent small groups of rebels from decimating entire villages, and the heads of the snakes must be cut off.  It happened in Angola during the Cold War and Liberia in 2006. Once Jonas Savimbi and Charles Taylor were removed from leadership, their armies disassembled.

Children are being taught to kill. Why don’t more of us panic, or go mad? The notion of distance is a farce, it is not just them but us who have been desensitized from human suffering. We have all been conditioned to accept a world at war.

You do eventually come too from the nightmare. You emerge from a lucid slumber gripping the bed sheets and drenched in sweat. But when these 300,000 child soldiers wake up, they are still wearing the same baggy uniforms caked in dry blood that they went to sleep in, and the clenching of the cold metal of small arms reminds them it’s not a dream. There are certain events that people must live with, help carry the burden and lighten their load.

Vicente Gonzalez is a senior in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at vgonzalez@cornellsun.com. Color Between the Lines appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Vicente Gonzalez