As we come off of a rugged road, more pot hole then road really, my guide is telling me the facts about the men I am about to meet: “Each of them, all of them, have killed. Each of them, all of them, have raped; many times, when there was not enough women to rape, they raped the children, even the males. These men, they are hungry, they are animals; in all the world, I doubt their equal exists. Me, personally, I will not look at them, I will not shake their hands. I just hope that god exists, to put these men through hell, through a hell designed just for them because regular hell is not good enough.”
I am a journalist, I am going to meet the rebels in Eastern Congo. I have met men called terrible before, and while I process those words given by my guide I don’t let them effect my perception of who these men will be. Inside, I question who to compare them too. Will they be like the radical revolutionaries hiding behind cloth during the Baathist uprising in Iraq? Will they be like the scared children unwillingly holding the banner during the failed Green Revolution in Iran? Or, will they be like the seasoned professionals maintaining the instability of the FARC rebels in Columbia. I don’t know. In many ways, I don’t really care, I won’t deny that this job has lost much of its romance, much of its luster. That I go with a formula designed to catch special words that will get me that perfect soundbite for my employers, who will then say to me a job well done and let me go home. I just want this to be over with.
We are getting close, apparently, to the rebels head quarters. I go about getting my game face on; I review my list of questions, and am determined to do my job adequately. The car stops at two sentries, stone faced, cold, who do not easily let my car through. I don’t know if there is truly any problem, or if these men just enjoy the power of making a foreigner wait at their beck and call. Regardless, after a certain amount of waiting we are allowed to drive into the compound.
The compound is the center of a small village. There is everything you would expect to see: a football pitch filled with players and spectators, a bar with a few doughty adherents, a restaurant with many talkative faces and the streets, the streets filled with beaming faces, thoughtful faces, playful faces: all going towards some destination. There is nothing to suggest this scene is anything but another village, except for the lack of women and children. Even the heavy amount of weapons present does not seep extraneous when compared to the normal village in this part of the world.
My car pulls up in front of what must to have been the chieftains palace, garnering many curious looks from the people of the vicinity. When I get out, I am the center of attention, not so different from any other isolate village. I can feel the look of all those collected, perhaps sans my driver, follow me to the door of the chiefs palace. I come to the door and there is a sentry at duty. I tell him my business, and his curiosity is radiating, is infectious; I know these men fit every definition of evil, but still, while we address each other, I pull a joke or two. I see his eyes become enraptured with pleasure, and evil while I wonder the number of rapes this man has taken part in I still feel myself enjoying his presence. Monstrous humanity, give me strength against your wiles.
The guard, my friend, takes me to the rebel leader. I meet him, and unlike any of my expectations he is not a bit out of the norm. He is perhaps dressed a little better, but still in rags by Western standards. He does not surround himself by luxury, or, indeed, by work, but rather he sits in a circle of confidents chatting away the day much like any other big man in a small village. The sentry raises the fact of my presence to the rebel leader and he quickly turns around and his eyes are filled with the most sincere pleasure.
This man. This man. He is the man responsible for war crimes that would see him brought to the Hague. For condoning the raping of women by such a long line of men that the women defecate out of their vaginas. For ordering the burning of thatch huts with entire families left inside, while the doors are barricaded shut from the inside. He is accused of eating human flesh. He is accused of enjoying the eating of human flesh. Regardless, he is responsible for the maintenance of a state of anarchy in this particularly dark corner of the world which still results in the indirect death of over forty thousand a month. The man is a monster.
And he comes towards me, eyes brimming heart felt good cheer, hand out to shake my equally outstretched hand with a vehemence bordering on the insane. He wishes me a “Good morning, sir! And how are you today? Welcome, welcome, you are most welcome. We are sincerely honored to have your presence here, and hope to make your stay as pleasurable as possible.” His English is good, there are rumors he was trained by American’s, that they thought he was useful during the long dead cold war. Who knows, it could be true.
I am jocular. My job is to push aside the trappings and meet the man, to outlay an honest vision of this man’s humanity, of his peoples humanity, and I intent to fulfill my quest. He makes me comfortable, and tells me he will be ready for my questions after a quick lunch. He invited me to join him, and while I tell him it would be my pleasure I have just eaten, and would appreciate the time to prepare myself for the interview. He affably communicates his understanding, and I am left alone with my computer to work on my notes.
While I wait, my sentry friend comes from behind me and sits in a chair in front of me. He doesn’t talk, understanding my need for silence, yet his presence is there. I look up at him, and I stop. I see him. This man. I think of the stories he could tell me, of the way he must see the world. I then, unbidden from my lips, breaking a very definite ethos which I am beholden too, I ask him if I can ask a few questions.
“What’s it like being a rebel.”
“Am I allowed to talk to you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Being a rebel is my life, it is all I know, it is what I have been doing since I was a young boy.”
“Do you like it.”
“You know, I am not going to be the normal soliloquy, the voice you would expect to hear. I’m not going to tell you what it is that I know, because what I know is a mixture of ignorance and idealism. What I know is that I want to move to the west, everybody wants to move to the west, for their life to be like some fucking Hollywood movie, which is an unreality. What I believe are those things which I’ve come to see are being realistic. Life has been hard to me, but the lives of many others are not so less difficult. Me, I have done things you consider barbarous, yes, I’ve raped women, cut throats, thrown babies against walls until they wail no more. And what of it? You know what, I was brought into this rebellion when I was twelve years old, brought in by an older brother who himself was brought in by an uncle. You think morality was a problem? It was us against them, we do not have your nice forms of media to humanize our enemies. We do not know that they can talk just as lusciously as you or me, rather, we are taught that they are the people who butchered our people. And, then, when we do our raiding we are drunk, we are high, we are full of blood lust, we are peer pressured, we are anarchic, we are out of control. It is the wild night time and we are alive, a part of the night, we are the night. So, oh yes, those things you hear, from your chair, that you call us monsters for, of rightfully so because we are monsters, but, in context, oh that evil word context, our actions make sense. I hate myself when I wake up every day; but, every night, when I am the night, I exist! I can do anything. And I tell you that my innocence was never allowed to happen, that I was made a monster, and me, just as I was brought here, bring new lambs here, to slaughter their innocence. To poor blood on them until they are stained and no longer god’s creatures. Until they have nothing in existence, like me, except the blood. Always the blood. And really, those worst crimes we are accused of, I don’t even see, that boy that starves to death in fear of me I will never know, never meet, whose death I will never mourn. You ask me if I like it. Fuck you. I am a man. I have killed innocents. I am the damned. I hate myself. I hate myself. But! I am me. I have made my decisions and I will live by them. I am the damned. And fuck you, I am myself, I don’t want to die, and that means I must continue living. And truly, beneath this scarred interior monologue which never rises to the surface is the voice of an innocent. I have never been educated enough, and have been manipulated too much, in the evils that I interact with. I kill like I have always killed. I play football like I have always played football. My sense of morality is finished, if it was ever really there. I see you come, and I crack a smile, feeling that same curiosity that any villager would feel at seeing a foreigner. And that is the truth: I am just another villager, just: I happen to be a killer. And I am sorry, if it makes a difference. But then I am not. I believe, somewhere in my soul, that these people I killed, it was either us or them. I am a survivor, no killer. Survivor.”
And of course that last conversation didn’t happen, rather, I just stared benignly at my sentry, who sat there staring innocently at me. But, as I wait for the rebel chief I do feel the difference here between the other rebellions I have witnessed. Here, there are no motivations for the fighters. They don’t believe in what they do, don’t even really care, it is just their lives. I think of the evil these men have done in their childlike innocence. Yes, they know they’re in trouble, but do they comprehend the enormity of their actions? How could they. If live is all about perspective, what is it these men would compare their lives to?
The sentry smiles at me. Not a crocodile smile, just a good natured grin. He is an innocent. He is innocent. For all the terror he has done, I forgive him, because in his heart he is not an evil man. He is like anyone else, just going from situation to situation blindly; just managing the crevices of life in a god, not understanding but attempting perfection to the best of his ability. I smile back at him.