Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Bringing Justice and Compassion to Central Africa

Michael J. Gerson


By Michael J. Gerson

This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.

A few days ago, I returned from the city of Dungu in eastern Congo.  This area has been subject to attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) since around 2008, when Joseph Kony moved his forces to the vast jungle region between Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. 

The LRA is no longer a political movement; it is more of a crime spree, conducting more than 300 attacks last year, mainly to steal supplies.  On this trip, I talked to girls that had been kidnapped into sexual slavery by LRA soldiers and used as porters on long marches.  The LRA has a long history of using child soldiers and murdering civilians. 

Kony is a messianic madman.  His supporters believe they are created from his blood.  They call him a supernatural being, and he commands their absolute obedience.  His victims told me they believe he is possessed by an evil spirit—for which a good case can be made. He has resisted capture for 20 years. 

On the ground in Dungu, I saw effective, compassionate humanitarian work.  Organizations such as Invisible Children, the Eastern Congo Initiative and the Catholic Church are caring for the victims of conflict.  The have built a radio network of 16 stations to warn remote villages of LRA attacks in their region, allowing civilians to hide before the soldiers come. These groups also counsel returning child soldiers and other captives, helping them reintegrate into communities.  Some of these victims have been traumatized so much that they eat very little, refuse to talk, or believe they will be poisoned. 

The conflict in eastern Congo illustrates the importance of humanitarian groups.  It is essential for people of conscience to care and act when human dignity is threatened, even in remote places of the earth.  A commitment to human dignity is a defining Christian principle. 

But this circumstance also demonstrates the importance of order and security in any approach to justice.  United Nations troops in Dungu and other towns do their best to protect civilians from violence.  And American special operations forces—on the order of President Obama—are now assisting units of the Ugandan army in pursing leaders of the LRA. 

U.S. forces in this region have a very limited role.  Instead of engaging in combat, they are providing intelligence and coordination for others.  It is a noble mission, performed by exceptional people.  I talked to a few of our soldiers in the area.  They are some of the most impressive, idealistic Americans I have ever met.  And they are helping draw an ever-tighter net around the LRA.   

President Obama’s deployment of American troops into this conflict initially generated some controversy.  But that has largely faded.  Recently, Mitt Romney also endorsed the mission.  This is part of America’s role in the world—helping others combat cruelty and brutality. Our power has limits, which means prudence is required from our leaders.  But this choice by President Obama was needed and justified. 

Sometimes justice in expressed in compassion. Other times it is expressed by restraining evil men.  In the Congo, both are needed. 

—Michael J. Gerson is nationally syndicated columnist who appears twice weekly in The Washington Post and is the author of Heroic Conservatism (2007) and the co-author of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (2010).  

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”