Founded in South Africa in 1989 originally as a covert training force for special forces, Executive Outcomes ended up involved in several African conflicts before being officially dissolved in 1998. But today’s Your Weekend Read isn’t about the history of this private military company, but a graphic novel based on ground action that took place in Sierra Leone between 1995 and 1996.
“Based on a True Story”
In Hollywood that can mean a whole lot of different things. In this instance, the story itself is largely formed from the experiences of Cobus Claassens, who had boots on the ground for the entire conflict and then some. This particular graphic novel is perfect for a weekend read; too long to be called a comic book and too short to be considered an epic like Habibi. Unless you move your lips while you read and use a finger for concentration, this should take you a couple short (but enjoyable) hours. And thankfully there’s a glossary for all of the South African slang used.
The action scenes, which are near constant, can be visceral.
But even with the heavy content of murders, rapes, dismemberments, and other pleasantries that Sierra Leone offered in the mid-90’s, the author still manages to inject some comic relief.
If you’re a student of history, you’ll know that there really isn’t a happy ending to the story. But as we well know, not everything in life is a fairy tale. So today I’ll leave you with an excerpt of the words by Cobus Claassens, as he writes in Executive Outcomes.
My name is Cobus Claassens.
I have been a military professional for all of my adult life.
After serving a rewarding career with the South African Defense Force as an officer in the Parachute Regiment, I was recruited to be the Fireforce Commander in Sierra Leone with Executive Outcomes.
If you study history you will see many negative things written about us. You will read that we killed indiscriminately, we used illegal weapons, we sold our services to the highest bidder etc.
Well, they say history is written by those who have hanged heroes.
That may well be – but I know that I and many other men did not lose our moral and ethical compass overnight when we traded in flag, unit, and country for a private contract. We did things the right way, we got the job done and we remained eternally professional. After the war in Sierra Leone, five principal entities were investigated by a United Nations tribunal:
The RUF (the Revolutionary United Front)
The SLA (the Sierra Leone Army)
The Kamajors (the irregular militia)
The United Nations Forces
Out of those five, only one was pronounced clear of all charges regarding war crimes: Executive Outcomes.
Did we go there to make money? Absolutely. Did we do the right thing? Yes, by God we did.
We had no big plans to save the world…our bosses had clear economic incentives when they deployed us into that conflict and the morality of that is a debate for another day.
But if what we did save one girl from rape and murder, and one boy from press-ganging by a brutal drug-fuelled band of thugs, one village from the torch – I, and the men that served with me, will gladly do so again every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
So yes we killed people. We were throwbacks to an earlier method of sorting out problems. Whilst many that occupy today’s halls of power choose debate and reconciliation as the way to engage with the scum of the earth, we put them to the sword till they learned to fear us and flee from us, till they were occupied with just staying alive and no longer had time to rape, murder, loot, and pillage.
The people we killed were qualified to die many times over, no matter what yardstick you use to measure their actions. Child killers, mass murderers. We spoke to them in the one language they would heed, loud and clear. And it worked, we stopped them cold.
So you will have to forgive me that despite the overwhelming beating Executive Outcomes has taken in the media I do not feel sorry for any of my actions. I stand by every decision we made, every shot fired, every murderous rebel left to rot in the forest. I also understand today better how our bosses were thinking, and how, against all odds, bad press, and international condemnations, they kept us there till the job was done.
If you travel to Sierra Leone, go into the forest villages and towns in the diamond fields. And ask some questions about us, the Guns for Hire. You will hear only good things about our time there from ordinary Sierra Leoneans. I spent a decade in that beautiful place after the war and to this day I still go back, to the white beaches, the clean ocean, the forests, the friendly people. I am welcome wherever I go and the occasional goat is till slaughtered when I visit old friends as if to say “Thanks. We remember.”
Violence is not always the answer – but sometimes – it’s the only answer.
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