Sometimes a little more amounts to a lot more.
A fresh look at the nearly-forgotten intervention into the civil war in Sierra Leone is a reminder that sometimes wonderful developments, or at least an end to horrors, can occur by surprise. It is possible with the application of capability and courage.
A story in the current issue of the New York Review of Books details the essential points about a rare case of successful foreign military intervention. The man who seized the initiative, way back in May 2000, was British Gen. David Richards, veteran of many prior peacekeeping actions in such places as Northern Ireland and East Timor.
At the time, the government of Sierra Leone was beset by the marauding and maiming Revolutionary United Front, and the capital, the misnamed Freetown, was on the verge of being overrun. Panic had set in:
Thousands of people, carrying children and baskets of clothes, tried to flee by road. At the airport, the last flights were fully booked, with desperate parents begging departing passengers with secured seats to take their children to safety.
Additionally, a peacekeeping mission sent by the United Nations was bogged down, demoralized, dozens of its soldiers held hostage.
Britain, the onetime colonial power there, had a vested interest in restoring stability there — particularly in the form of British citizens present and under threat.
It so happened that British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who would subsequently disgrace himself by supporting the Bush / Cheney / Powell regime-change mission to Iraq, was of a mind to promote a quiet resolution. Looking back, Blair considered Sierra Leone one of his proudest moments in office.
It’s true: He done good, though passively. Richards done even better.
What started officially as a reconnaissance mission aimed at evacuating British subjects became, under Richards, a clever campaign with modest resources to end a decade of barbarity, employing child soldiers.
The RUF was abducting children from their villages, getting them high on poyo (homemade palm wine), marijuana and heroin, and training them to kill. I later heard from a Jesuit priest who tried to rehabilitate these child-soldiers that they made excellent killers because, under the age of nine, they had not yet developed a full moral conscience. The warlords exploited their innocence.
The “cheerfully evil” leader of the RUF was in control of the diamond mines. Fifty thousand — fighters and civilians — had been killed, and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Richards’ small force of Royal Marines and paratroopers landed on 6 May, under a crescent moon: an appropriate moment for nurture and support. They began by setting up a base at the airport, then set out to patrol the city, in the process establishing an intelligence network that bore crucial fruit: the capture of the RUF leader.
There was far more in the sky than a crescent moon, as some readers might recall: May 2000 was the month not only of a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn — signaling a potent political moment — but also a brief and very rare cluster of Mercury, Venus and Mars along with the New Moon (on 4 May) in the stability-loving zoidion of Taurus. All these bodies were arrayed in a right angle to slower-moving Uranus and Neptune in outside-the-box Aquarius.
Significantly, within two days of the New Moon, Mars had separated from the cluster, entering adaptable Gemini. That quality was exactly what was required for a humanitarian outcome: that and a combination of confidence and daring in going beyond the strict definition of the mission. Key to success, however, was Richards’ battlefield diplomacy.
Take note in the chart below how the grand configuration (in the outer ring) linked with Richards’ birth chart (inner ring). (In the absence of a known birth time, the chart has been calculated for the hour of sunrise.) He was truly a man of the moment.
The Taurus cluster — especially Sun (leadership), Jupiter (expansion of scope) and Saturn (restraint, discipline) — filled the empty spot Richards’ natal configuration of Venus – Pluto – Mars: opposite natal Mars (the warrior planet) at home in Scorpio. This represents a rare opportunity to manage a dire situation.
(That’s where it was handy to have a commander born with Luna in Gemini: “jaw and jaw preferable to war and war,” as the saying goes.)
As further evidence, the previous February’s partial solar eclipse fell on Richards’ natal Venus, denoting an opening to promote peace. And, more dramatically, the famous “Grand Cross Solar Eclipse” of August 1999 had emphasized the same degree areas as Richards’ Venus – Pluto – Mars combination. That year, he was commanding a UK contingent seeking to prevent reprisals by Indonesians against citizens in East Timor.
Amazingly, yet appropriately, Gen. Richards was recognized with promotion, ultimately to Chief of Defense Staff, and honored as a Life Peer. Yet his true value was recognized in the streets of Freetown, even during his service there: “Richards for President” posters began appearing, and local women would surround him, holding their babies toward him and weeping with gratitude.
[For some sobering contrast, read “The Generals Won’t Save Us from the Next War.”]