Where Do You Stand?
By Theodore T. Hodge
December 21, 2001
When I was a little boy I heard a story that left quite an impression on my mind. It went thus: A father was in a festive and talkative mood and decided to tell his young son about a war he had witnessed as a youngster. He went on to tell the lad about strategies and tactics and the glory of fighting and winning the war. The young boy was quite impressed as his father told him where these brave heroes stood and how they fought gallantly until the victory was won. At the end of the story, the son asked: “Dad, where did you stand?” He looked dejectedly at his son and said, “Oh, son, I didn’t fight in that war. I was too young to fight.” Imagine the rest of the story. To say the young man was disappointed would be quite an understatement.
As I have gone through life I have always wondered about the young lad and his father. I have a twelve-year old son now. I often wonder what story am I going to tell him about these trying times in Liberia. If Liberia should ever recover her lost prestige among the nations of the civilized world, and he asks me, “What did you do, Dad?” What’s going to be my response?
My fellow countrymen and women, what’s going to be your response? As we live here in relative comfort, our country goes through some horrendous experiences. There are a bunch of thieves and hoodlums terrorizing Liberians. The citizens of Lofa and other surrounding areas are becoming victims of a senseless war. Not to mention those proud Liberians already forced to live in decrepit conditions in neighboring countries. Everyday more of our fellow citizens are forced to flee the notorious Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) of Liberia and run into the hands of the equally notorious Revolutionary United Front (RUF) of Sierra Leone. Choosing between options that seem equally unfavorable - oh, what a dilemma! And yet we do nothing!!
Anybody who follows the crises in Liberia knows that the situation is getting out of hand. There is a war going on. On one hand is the Liberian government and on the other is the “Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy” (LURD) caught in the middle, unfortunately, are unarmed and defenseless civilians. We know who the government is: an undisciplined, ruthless, uneducated, uncivilized band of ragamuffins headed by a sociopath and kleptomaniac. But who are the LURD? Someone recently referred to them indirectly as “self-proclaimed liberators”. Who gave them the right to jeopardize the lives of tens of thousands of our countrymen? We did! By doing nothing, we have told them it’s okay for them to fight our battle. But is it? What do they want in return? Do we know?
The great statesman and orator Edmund Burke is purported to have said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” My fellow Liberians, we are supporting evil in Liberia by standing by idly. Do we want that on our collective conscience? It will be!
The question many rational readers will pose at this juncture is a fair one: “What should we do?” In my earlier article entitled: “Liberians In The Diaspora: We Must Unite”, I made certain key proposals which I shall reiterate here.
Firstly, I challenged the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) to restructure the organization. ULAA is widely viewed by Liberians in the homeland as well as by the Liberian government to be the organization that represents Liberians in the Diaspora. It is not true today, although it was true sometime in the past - that organization is now a skeleton of its past. The organization as we know it today is mainly based on the Eastern board of the United States, supported by a few selective, local associations and run as an exclusive, parochial club. A few charismatic, and stubborn individuals (with personal and questionable political motives) remain at the helm of leadership. Until these self-described leaders become more progressive and inclusive, they cannot enjoy the support of the masses. So the challenge is for the ULAA leadership to step up to the plate and play an active, productive role as the crises in Liberia unfurl. In other words, play the role of a uniting force or accept your demise.
Secondly, I called on the candidates for the 2003 elections to become more dynamic and wide-ranging as they prepare to battle for control of the Liberian government. Publishing an article here or there or giving an occasional speech or interview to denounce Charles Taylor do not constitute a credible, viable campaign. These candidates and their respective camps must be prepared to present platforms clearly articulating their views, philosophies, intentions and desires. Lastly, but most importantly, the must be willing to discuss their qualifications and track records.
We must insist that these honorable men and women tell us in unequivocal terms what they propose to do for our country, how they intend to accomplish these endeavors and the reasonable timetable. They must also clearly differentiate themselves from Charles Taylor and they must be willing to debate each other on the issues here. They must be able to ‘sell’ themselves to the Liberian masses here. They must be able to motivate us and arouse our interest. If they can successfully get us to rally behind them, they will have gone a long way.
Thirdly, the masses are simply supinely complacent. Our country is dying slowly but many among us do not seem to have got the message. Some are simply hoping some divine intervention will save our country. Well, in my view, nothing could be further from the truth. Freedom has a price. Liberty has a price. Democracy has a price. Justice has a price. For our country to be a free place where liberty, democracy and justice are enjoyed, we must be willing to pay a steep price. We can simply begin by bringing about needed changes. We must get involved now!
By getting involved I am simply referring to the political process. My hat goes off to those various groups who organize themselves as social clubs dedicated to lending a helping hand to a specific regional or ethnic enclave, such as the Krahns helping Krahns or the Gios helping Gios, etc. That’s good; I, too, belong to a fine organization, ‘Marylanders for Progress’. But I believe for best results, we must coordinate our efforts in conjunction with a national agenda. As long as our efforts remain fragmented and uncoordinated, we are only helping the tyrannical government of Liberia by sending in support when and where the government has a responsibility but fails to deliver basic, essential services.
What we need to do is organize and support local and regional organizations here in the United States that are dedicated to addressing national issues. These organizations must be “Liberian” associations. The issue at hand is nation building. I’d like to repeat that I am not opposed to “tribal”, “regional”, “sectional” or “alumni” associations. But they must be secondary to “Liberian” associations.
Once these local chapters are firmly organized, we need to become members of ULAA. I do hesitate to recommend a revolutionary change and take-over of ULAA. What we need to do, instead, is to challenge and eventually change the leadership through clear, rational proposals in a democratic way. Once we earnestly tackle the issues of dysfunctional leadership in ULAA, a new leadership will emerge. The “east-coast-boys network” will have to give way to a new breed of pragmatic and realistic thinkers.
The reason I persist on reforming ULAA is because we have a lot of “good will” invested in the name. One of the most important factors in the game of public relations is name recognition. The name ULAA is arguably the most recognizable name in Liberian politics in the Diaspora. And it became that way because the people built and supported it. Why should we walk away to form a new organization and lose our “trademark”? Those people in ULAA who are determined to make it a divisive, narrow and unfocused organization are the ones that should be forced out in a democratic way.
It is a sad testament that many Liberians do not want to get involved in the messy political issues of Liberia because they feel they are out of harm’s way. They live abroad and enjoy a high degree of security. They seem to be willing to exchange their liberty for their newly found security. But that is a fallacy of thought. As much security as we may enjoy in our respective adoptive countries, we must fight to restore liberty and the rule of law in our country. The great American statesman, Benjamin Franklin, once said: “Those who will sacrifice liberty for the sake of security, deserve neither.” What do you think he meant? The more popular and memorable quotation on the topic is attributed to another American orator, Patrick Henry, who said: “Give me liberty or give me death.”
My fellow Liberians, as thousands of our countrymen and women including children are dying, is it too much to ask that we get involved? The time for sitting on the sidelines and hoping that somebody else will fight our battle and liberate our country is past. It is time to get involved!
If Liberia ever becomes a safe and respectable place without you ever lifting a finger or saying anything to denounce these evil doings, what will be the answer to your child’s question when he/she asks: “Mommy/Daddy what did you do? Where did you stand?”
P.O. Box 450493
Atlanta, GA 31145