*I’d like to note than since publishing this, I’ve learned even more that makes some of my points outdated. I recommend clicking on the links I’ve attached in the comments underneath this post. Cheers to being able to spread so many perspectives so quickly over the web, and to all of us for caring in one way or another.*Few of us now need any introduction to the campaign that is Kony 2012. If, somehow, you’ve managed to miss the thirty-minute documentary that’s owned YouTube all week, please make yourself familiar with the Invisible Children’s website and watch the video for yourself. If you haven’t, reading the rest of this post wouldn’t make sense and you’d be another dumbass with an opinion on something you haven’t even looked into yet. (I admit, I had unwarranted opinions on what I heard the idea was before I investigated for myself.)
When I finished, I was roused from my late night sleepiness. I was angered. I was awed. Then I was confused and frustrated… I saw the problem and agreed it needed fixing as soon as possible, but something inside me was dissatisfied with the solution the documentary proposed: advocate to keep U.S. troops in central Africa. Before I go further, I’d like to make clear a few things:
1) I wholeheartedly share the goal of Kony 2012, which is to stop Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army from continuing their reign of violence. The Invisible Children has my support (as do the many other like-missioned non-profits out there), both financially and collectively. They are achieving something truly remarkable in that they’ve hastily spread the message of love and intervention on others’ behalves far and wide. The ultimate intention is love, the ultimate goal being the safety and freedom of the people in central Africa. I don’t view it as a White Man’s Burden as some do. We all have the right to sleep without fear of being kidnapped. No one of us should be forced at gunpoint to shoot our own parents. If this were happening in fair-folked Sweden I think we’d all feel the same urge to do something, even if it’s limited to the hackneyed “spreading awareness”. 2) Though what I have to say may at first look like I am undermining the cause of Kony 2012 and its supporters, I am not; I am looking to strengthen and further it. 3) I am not here to play a game of devil’s advocate—this bloodshed is far too grave a topic to merely be poking at peoples’ varying perspectives for cynicism’s sake.
I’ll let my first tweet on the subject of Kony introduce to you my dilemma: “I sincerely, w/o a trace of sarcasm, want to know how writing my email and zip code will #StopKony. Can someone explain how pledges work? Somehow I just don’t believe a collection of email address[es] will bring international justice. I want to. Please, explain how this works!” (My Twitter handle is @alicefood if you’d like to read my tweets for yourself.) The domino effect montage of hope at the end of the video was not logistically detailed enough to soothe my yanked heart strings. The responses I got back ranged from statements like, “To show our solidarity and demand change” to “I think it’s a scam”. The more responses I read and the more I thought about it, the more perplexed I felt. I decided in a burst of frustration to write a longer tweet in an attempt to clarify my feelings, both to myself and the people asking why I had even the tiniest problem with Kony 2012. To those of you reading this who read that TwitLonger mini-essay of mine, a bit of the following is directly copy/pasted from that and will therefore be redundant to you. I realized after posting it that I really needed to dedicate a blog entry to this subject if I wanted to make my thoughts on it publically known. More importantly, I needed to do a lot more research to elaborate on the questions I posed and the opinions I prematurely shared. I acknowledge that I made some statements I personally feel I ought to have explored more diversely before putting them out there. However, I don’t take those statements back. Again, I fully support Kony 2012’s mission and all other endeavors to demonstrate our empathy for our fellow human by stepping into this horrifying battle and hunting Kony down. That said…
I kept referencing Uganda in that TwitLonger. I now realize that Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army hasn’t even been in Uganda for the past five and a half years. “The LRA left Uganda for good once the Juba Peace Talks began in 2006,” states Invisible Children’s website. “Since 2008, they have carried out their attacks in the border regions of northeastern Congo, South Sudan, and Central African Republic.” This BBC news link dated September 12th 2006 appears to confirm that, for those questioning Invisible Children’s credibility based on exaggeration claims. Once I realized this, I also realized I’d need to edit my TwitLonger post to replace the encompassing “central Africa” where I wrote “Uganda”. Consider this blog doing just that. I do know that Kony 2012 is more than just a request for signatures, as one Twitter responder pointed out to me. They’re promoting advocacy via posters, viral videos, social media utilization, fundraising, and more. The current climax of their campaign—obviously besides the arrest of Kony—is a mission called Cover the Night. After sundown on April 20th of this year, people in cities all over the world will plaster as many public surfaces as they can with Kony’s image, the goal being to literally have people wake up into awareness of this human atrocity. “Make Kony famous!” is the rallying cry. With all my heart I want to believe humanity’s voice still matters to the powers that be. With all my heart I want to believe in the strength of social networking to override financial corruption. That dollar sign-topped pyramid turning upside down in that video? I’d love nothing more. With all my heart I want to believe awareness will bring action. The biggest cause of my frustration is this: I am just not convinced the results are enough. My understanding of the results Kony 2012 aims for are summed up as continued pressure on the United States government to keep troops in central Africa to advise local militia in their efforts to arrest Kony. That, in my opinion, is not enough and I’ll explain why.
When President Obama wrote a letter to Congress detailing the deployment of approximately 100 military personnel to central Africa, he stated that they would be acting as “…advisors to partner forces that have the goal of removing from the battlefield Joseph Kony and other senior leadership of the LRA.” He is clear that U.S. troops are not to engage in combat with the LRA unless it’s in self-defense; they are there only to provide information, advice, and assistance. According to Invisible Children’s video, Obama did this because of the persistence from advocates, which I’m inclined to correlate although I suspect other influences also played a part. It’s a proactive start toward something. And I gotta say, I admire the carefulness of Mr. President’s choice of word… He said the goal is to “remove” Kony. He didn’t say arrest, capture, or kill. He merely said “remove”, which could imply any of those. However, I would have preferred if he used the word “assassinate”.
I’ve been wondering since I watched that video why the campaign is branded #StopKony instead of #KillKony. At least in the Twitter world. Is it because “stop” sounds more polite than “kill”? Isn’t killing him what we’re all really talking about when we righteously say, “bring him to justice”? Why waste time and money on a trial he so clearly doesn’t deserve? What, we’re really going to rehash his crimes in court someday? Thanks to this stunning documentary among others, the world will know them. Would his death sentence really be up for debate? Well, upon further research into international laws regarding the death penalty, it would seem to depend on which country of those he terrorized would be responsible for his trial. I was reminded of Saddam Hussein’s hanging and learned that his execution was the sentence of the Iraqi Special Tribunal. If Kony had a trial, I’m not sure who hold it. I realize there are many people opposed to the death penalty, and I used to be one of them. I respectfully say that I no longer share that view, as I think lifelong imprisonment is a waste of money and other resources that could be better spent helping people elsewhere. To execute an innocent person is an evil to be sure. I believe it is the lesser of two, far outweighed by the other evil being non-execution of those guilty and keeping them well-fed. This is a touchy subject for another blog, though. For now, let’s stick to my thoughts on “removing” Kony.
The only benefit I can find in not killing Kony on sight, and instead having him arrested and detained, is so that psychoanalysts, neurochemists, and others in the medical, sociological, and scientific fields can have a go at studying this man. We could learn very valuable information about the human brain and how one joins the likes of Hitler, Hussein, bin Laden, and the leaders of the genocides in Rwanda and Darfur. Imagine if you could spend a month analyzing Kony, guarded and through bulletproof glass, and how you might dissect the makings of a mass murderer and rapist. Kony has a story, too—he probably wasn’t born with a desire to become a notorious terrorist. What shaped him, wounded him, inspired him, tortured him? Though I am in favor of the death penalty, I am paradoxically also in favor of empathy towards all human beings, including Kony. I don’t believe empathy equates to pardon for one’s crimes. I wonder if Saddam Hussein was analyzed. I haven’t found any evidence to support that he was, and I’m inclined to believe Kony wouldn’t be either. Therefore, I advocate his death without a trial.
If the Kony 2012 campaign asked for my signature to verify that I am in support of assassinating Kony, saying that if there were enough email addresses collected and posters slapped up and petitions signed that the U.S. would send a team to track him and kill him as soon as possible, it would give me a lot more urgency to spread the word and donate. What are the Marine Corps’ Scout Snipers for? Or the Army’s Green Berets, or the CIA’s Special Activities Division? Why do these and other special ops exist if not to snipe individuals like Joseph Kony? For all we know, there is a secret operation going on right now. I hope so. It saddened me to learn that forgoing secret special ops in place of a worldwide campaign could actually bring more harm to central Africa than help…
The Foreign Affairs magazine wrote an article in November 2011 critiquing Obama’s deployment of those 100 military personnel to central Africa. It says that because of that decision, “the LRA has already announced that it is ready for a fight, and is said to have called on its members to gather and ‘celebrate’ Christmas and New Year’s—a reference to the string of violent retaliatory attacks it carried out on December 25, 2008.” That string of attacks happened ten days after Operation Lightning Thunder launched, another mission to Stop Kony that the U.S. aided with advice, supplies, and intelligence. It sounds a lot like what Obama’s doing now. An article from the Enough Project describes why we should be concerned that this latest Stop Kony move could incite another slaughter on civilians. Basically, we could be kicking a hornet’s nest, as yet another article from the New York Times put it. Christmas of 2011 came and went without a massacre from the LRA, but we all know they don’t limit their atrocities to only happening over Christian holidays. All this campaigning is giving Kony a heads up that the world is after him, and instead of that putting pressure on him to surrender, it is possible that he’ll retaliate with even more violence. The Obama administration says that the way this operation is different from Operation Lightning Thunder is because “’[American forces] will be forward-deployed,’ allowing them to play a more direct coordinating role. Instead of remaining in Uganda, they will be embedded with the regional forces going after the LRA in Central African Republic, Congo and South Sudan (with permission from those governments).” That’s from a pretty fair article written by Michael Gerson of the Washington Post.
I now realize after doing my research that even bluntly campaigning for Kony’s assassination still may not be wise, even though I personally think it’s more to-the-point and efficient if we’re going to be campaigning at all. Any forewarning of U.S. assistance, however well-intended and sincere, may be counterproductive and has proved to be in the recent past. But what’s done is done. I do not believe all is lost though! I realize I may sound like a doomsayer at this point. In going forward supporting Invisible Children (and the others who share their same goal), I feel it is my responsibility to share all of what I learned if I am going to Twitter, Facebook, or otherwise speak publically on this topic.
What I fully support about Kony 2012’s campaign is the human experiment its video director Jason Russell so passionately invites us to join. This video has an incredible and inspiring millions of views and people are indeed affected and taking action, largely thanks to Twitter, as I discovered it. As someone who loves reading about sociological experiments, I am truly humbled to take part in one that is so unprecedented and magnificently worthy. While I did not buy the action kit I said on Twitter I was going to, I did donate money (since I decided the contents of the kit would realistically just sit in my closet). If you find me no different than those you call haters, and if you think I’m out to mar the beautiful mission that is Kony 2012, then it is my fault for not explaining myself thoroughly enough. Or yours for not reading closely and doing your own research. :) I believe that all that awareness adds up on a quantum physics scale, and that even just our thoughts can affect the outcome of this horrible tragedy, among many, many countless others. I applaud the intention and pro-action of Invisible Children, even if I don’t agree with their proposed solution.
One last thing… I think it’s very important that people start talking about what to do after Kony is captured. There is a lot of emphasis placed on his removal, but as many critics have pointed out, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Politics aside, I’d like to see more discussions about practical, lengthy support for all his abductees. Where will all those children go, many of them grown into adulthood by now? I envision a safe house type of place not unlike the European residential facilities where recovered kidnapped victims (such as Elisabeth Fritzle and Natascha Kampusch) can undergo major therapy and slow reintegration back into their family’s lives. That is, if their families are still alive and found. Also, these kids will need education and job skills if they have any hope of building a healthy and fulfilling life. This all can be feasible. The rehabilitation center in my vision would ideally would be funded by donations from all the various organizations who promoted Kony’s capture, as well as governmental and private aid from the world. One amazing thing we’ve learned from Kony 2012 is that humanity does care enough to donate money, even if most of us aren’t willing to literally give our lives—for a second there, I considered proposing that we all walk our talk and flood central Africa’s airports, setting up camp and literally covering indefinite square miles with people willing to die for this cause. If we did that, and if were slaughtered for doing that, we’d surely have the world’s attention then and I’d like to think sniper missions would be executed more speedily. Instead, let’s see where Kony 2012 takes us with its far-reaching advocacy. And let’s exercise some positive thinking by assuming that Kony will be captured within the year and devote preparation time to coming up with solutions for how best to help his victims.
I’ll leave you with the closing statement from my TwitLonger: If Kony is stopped and/or killed in 2012, I will be a renewed believer in humanity. With every last shred of hope I have left in my soul, I put it here. I earnestly still stand by that, idealistic as it may sound. I am an idealist after all.