It reads like a cross between Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a compilation of the best of Kurt Vonnegut, and Lord of the Flies. You are drawn in by the insanity, the inhumanity, the sheer crazy delirium induced by this orgy of revelry in the worst of human greed, suffering and delusion. And yet, at the end, there is a glimpse of normalcy and a modern tale of the Road to Damascus. No, this is not the beginning of a book review, this is the story of the Liberian civil war.

This is a story that is so horrendous that most of it is likely to slip away untold simply due to the volume of atrocity. There is only room for a certain amount of truth and reconciliation and, as ever, the most incredible stories are the ones who make it to daylight.
So it is that we have the stories of General Butt Naked, General Peanut Butter, General Fuck-me-Quick, General Babykiller and others. With stories of sacrificing children and eating their hearts before battle; of the belief that one could sell one's soul to Satan in return for immortality; of using severed heads for impromptu games of soccer; of running into battle in flowing wedding gowns and purses or simply running into the fray wearing nothing at all; of hi-way checkpoints manned by drug addled rebel teenagers using human entrails as an impromptu gate; of the brutal torture and dismemberment, on film, of the countries then president, Samuel Doe, while his captors sip Budweiser; of children forced or coerced to fight and kept alive with spare rations topped off with "Brown-brown", a mixture of cocaine or heroin and gunpowder used to incite a lack of fear and ruthlessness on the battlefield, and regular helpings of amphetamines.

This is not, unfortunately, a dream.



Above are pictures of the most notorious of the bunch, General Butt Naked, in action from the website he now runs. In the first he is scaling a fence prior to battle, in the second he is allegedly possessed and performing a satanic ritual prior to battle. The third is a rather tame picture of a Liberian rebel with a wig, who actually looks old enough to carry his weapon. Unfortunately many did not.

I am struck by the appalling lack of humanity in all of this. Although Hitler, Stalin and the Khmer Rouge take the cake for efficiency they at least seemed to hold some grasp of a twisted sense of sanity. There is literally no sanity here, no human empathy. There is nothing but a black pit of anarchy and absurdist gluttony. Reading this stuff is like looking into the maw of a black hole. It makes you realize just how far man can fall and how small the loss of traction must be to propel society beyond the event horizon.

Luckily the war is over, for now. The Liberian government has set up a Truth & Reconciliation commission along the lines of South African model and things are looking marginally better. Just a few days ago General Butt Naked made his appearance at the commission to tell his story. He described in detail how he and his men were responsible for 20,000 deaths as well as his role in human sacrifice, cannibalism, and killing of innocent children to satisfy the devil.

Since around the end of the first Liberian civil war he has changed his ways. Apparently God communicated to him on the battlefield and he, eventually, changed his ways. He is now an evangelical preacher and the head of End Time Train Evangelical Ministries. From the title it appears that he has simply switched from one apocalypse to another.

I'm glad for him and I can't fault him for being a moral flip-flopper. He has flipped the right direction in my eyes. Still, how far does forgiveness go? It is an amazing how much we are able to forgive, but at the same time, might it be a fault in some cases? It is a very hard question and this puts it in stark relief. I'm inclined to forgive him, but then again he didn't kill my children and eat their hearts.

Joshua Milton Blahyi sold his soul to the devil, and has now sold it to God. What does this tell us about how a belief in the supernatural can allow people to give their actions broader purpose? My answer is that people use the supernatural to fabricate meaning in their lives. This fabrication can lead people to create meaning to such an extent that it goes horribly wrong.

I'm not saying that those of you who believe are just steps away from games of cranial soccer, you aren't (I hope). I am saying that it might be worth some serious introspection to understand how you use religion in your life. Do you ever use it to rationalize things you would rather not explain (even in the context of what you believe)? Does the way your belief is practiced contribute to individuals or groups rationalizing their actions in order to hurt others through ignoring their plight or directly hurting them? Does it make you feel better about who you are by blinding you to how little you really do to help others?

It's an interesting question I think we should all ask ourselves on a regular basis, whatever it is we believe.