Military intervention and friendship tend to change world awareness

For so long the many trouble spots in the world just seem to come and go through my psyche like an unexpected meteor shower in some unfamiliar locale. For example, some seven or eight years ago I briefly kept up with the saga of a military coup d’├ętat in the South Pacific island nation of Fiji. The only reason I paid as little attention to it as I did was having visited the country’s capital, Suva, for some 17 hours when my Navy warship docked there in 1977.

Suva was an odd, but peaceful place back then. The presidential palace for the former British colony was guarded, at the time, with a lone soldier outfitted in a red uniform shirt and a white sari. He had a long weapon at his side. I was just looking at the Kodak Instamatic picture I took of him and, while I always remembered the soldier with a spear at his side, a look today at the photo has me leaning more toward something like an M-1 carbine. It was an English-speaking country but with the scant amount of time both officer and enlisted sailors ended up in what appeared to be the only nightclub open on a Suva Sunday night. It would not surprise many older salts and perhaps a good many of those in the present, but there were plentiful hangovers to go around at morning quarters the next day, just prior to getting underway.

It was only a few moments ago when scanning a Wikipedia page that the nation of Fiji had two previous coups between the time I visited and the one of which I write in 2006.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit
South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit

With that somewhat sordid background comes the news of the current conflict in South Sudan. I must confess that many of the uprisings in that part of the world must have something sufficiently mind-shaking for me to perk up and pay attention. I mean no disrespect nor lack of passion but the truth is that bad things happen all over the world, some closer to home than others. And I speak figuratively when I say “closer to home.” If our military becomes involved, my attention toward the story grows. Certainly, if someone I know or who is from my “neck of the woods” I will likewise tend to read a bit closer or listen somewhat more intently.

So across the oceans we go to South Sudan. First, I read of our military involvement — helping ensure the safe passage of Americans — although it is still difficult to determine just what in the hell is going on there. A bit on that later, but first we go to Facebook.

Sometimes I disinterest myself from Facebook for long periods of time. It keeps me from just completely dropping out — and from not just Facebook. So I check on an old FB friend, actually I first knew him when he was employed as an attorney to represent my media company and me in a defamation suit. And he was not just a run-of-the-mill lawyer. He was high-powered, D.C., First Amendment legal talent. The federal judge over the case threw the suit out into oblivion where it belongs.

I knew Michael, the attorney, was doing some pro bono work in the Balkans but as I said, I just kind of lost touch. The next thing I know, I look on his Facebook page and he is evacuating from South Sudan where he had been helping that brand new government take shape as a constitutional entity. Such noble endeavors in some often difficult circumstances are all part of the job for Michael, now part of a globe-trotting pro bono legal firm. I never knew that such an animal existed. But I am happy for the work my friend and his cohorts do. Most of all, and as I wrote on his Facebook page, I am happy he is back home and safe.

Just what is this whole conflict about in South Sudan? I’m still reading about that. There are tribal issues and, made clear by the fledgling nation’s head of state, President Salva Kiir Mayardit, more than a little cattle rustling. One doesn’t think of cattle rustling as a concern in a nation neighboring Ethiopia, Kenya and, of course, Sudan. That is until one sees an official photo of President Kiir in his ten-gallon hat that was given to him by none other than Cowboy George W. Bush.

Yes, I will continue to follow what happens in the South Sudan. Now, at least to me and at least for the time, not just another African hotspot.

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