By Mwalimu-Koh Moses Blonkanjay Jackson (MsEd, EdM) Ivy League Scholar, Mathematician, Critical Thinker, Author
In my thinking thoughts, I awoke with mixed feelings that February 11, 2021 would soon come when the nation state of Liberia celebrates its Armed Forces Day (AFD), as both a tradition and duty. This mixed feelings was due to news that this year’s Armed Forces Day would be observed by virtue of duty and not tradition.
Before I be remiss, let me honor and salute the gallant men and women of the Armed Forces of Liberia for responding to a national call, which many among us would never have perceived as patriotic. Alas, I hold the Armed Forces with very high esteem as two of my brothers, the late Col. Koplah Blonkanjay Saulwah, and the late Col. Mark Blonkanjay Saulwah were members of the Armed Forces. They committed their lives for over 20 years and retired from duty to rest to be with the Compassionate Savior. May their military souls rest in perfect peace.
Fellow compatriots, it is noteworthy that gallant men and women who have served (or are serving) the Armed Forces were responding to the national call to defend a cause as enshrined in a stanza of the national anthem of Liberia as authored by Daniel Bashiel Warner. This stanza beckons and motivates us citizens to defend our mother’s single most craving and cause to be a land of glorious liberty:
“With heart and hand
Our country’s cause defending
We’ll meet the foe
With valor unpretending
Long live Liberia happy land
A home of glorious liberty by God’s Command”
Armed Forces Day Observances
Many countries observe AFD each year either to mark a specific historical event or simply to honor its gallant men and women trained and processed to place their lives on the line to defend the common cause.
In Nigeria, AFD, also known as Remembrance Day, is celebrated to commemorate the surrender of Biafran troops to the Federal troops on 15 January 1970, thus concluding the Nigerian Civil War that sought to tear apart the unity of Nigeria.
South Africa observes AFD for twofold reasons. First to celebrate the day of the 1993 reconstitution of the South African Defense Force into its current identity. Second, South Africa’s AFD event also honors the tragic sinking of the SS Mendi while conveying South African forces into the frontlines during the First World War in 1917, resulting in one of the biggest military losses ever in South African military history. It has been celebrated with parades nationwide since 2012.
In the United States, on 28th August 1949, the Ministry of Defense decided to celebrate this day, to honor the soldiers, sailors, and airmen. This celebration intends to pay tribute to the valiant and martyred soldiers, and to revamp the harmony of its citizens
Armed Forces Day Back Then
You see, as young men growing up in Bassa Community in Monrovia (before the 1990 war) we acquired vivid experiences of the essence of AFD. The celebration was vested with much pomp and pageantry as the nation displayed its military might to the general public. On February 11, we would wake up rubbing sleep from our eyes just to be first take strategic positions to witness and applaud the Executive Mansion Guard band that marched up Capitol Hill to hoist the flag and announce the dawn of a new day in an old Republic with a band of gallant men poised to meet its foes with valor unpretending.
Later on in the day, all of the armed forces of Africa’s oldest Republic, both military and para-military, would march past Bassa Community up Capitol Hill for the “eyes right” salute. “he missed it”, “he got it” (applause, applause, applause). What a marvelous and aesthetic sight it was to behold our “troops go marching on”.
The Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) elaborately dressed and moving in perfect cadence and rhythm, stirred a strange feeling of patriotism in us and eventually forced us to our feet and cheered with overwhelming joy. Various AFL battalions including Schiefflein, Camp Narmah, Todee, BTC, Bomi, etc, would come marching past to our innermost joy and fulfillment.
After the AFL had marched past, other para-military forces including the police and Immigration exquisitely adorned and looking exceptional sharp, would march past in an elite manner;” half step, half step, chest up, forward, march” …and we would clap. Then came the fire service which we would receive with loud but mocking applauses “…checker players, checker players, I will eat three seeds and go king oh…” The National Immigration Bureau for its part, usually paraded females with huge buttocks and king size breasts. How they were selected, we never asked. As the women marched past, although we were innocent, we joined other sexually active adolescents and jeered at the big boobs and backsides. “It for your one? It for you and who?”, we would shout as they marched past. The Boy Scouts usually concluded the parade as we rudely shouted “chicken rogue, chicken rogue!”
In spite of our nuisance, frolicking and silliness, there was always a deep sense of gratitude to our troops and assurance that ours was indeed a beacon of happiness and hope. Ah yes, Armed Forces Day, back then was vested with true pomp and untold pageantry.
Divested Armed Forces Day 2021
For the sake of the layman, to divest is to strip, deprive, or deny. In some fraternal orders, before brethren are admitted or initiated, they are divested. In the religious sector, before a sinner can come to Jesus and be saved, she has to strip herself of all sins or deficiencies in her life. If she were a drunk, prostitute, or gangster, she is supposed to be divested of her blemishes so that the Compassionate Savior can receive her.
Unfortunately, fellow Liberians, this year’s Armed Forces Day will be divested. I will not be vested with the traditional pomp and pageantry of ‘back then’. It will definitely not be like the ones back then. It will not even offer half of the joy and fulfillment “back then” You will not witness your gallant men immaculately adorned in their military regalia, and showing off their elite disciplinary skills before the Grand Stand at the Barclay Training Center (BTC). There will be no marching bands and glamorous parades. Armed Forces Day 2021 will be entirely divested.
While we may be dispirited for missing the traditional AFD, the reason for divesting Armed Forces Day is genuine for it is in strict compliance to the Coronavirus pandemic protocols. All over the world, nations are struggling with COVID-19 which continues to claim thousands of lives. So far, the major global prevention means touted include limited human interactions, wearing of masks, frequent hand washings, discouragement of crowding, or gathering of huge number of people at any event. For those reasons, schools, churches and mosques were closed for a period, but recently approved to re-open.
Peculiar Armed Forces Day
There are conversations and debates among pundits, scholars, and laymen over the peculiarity of this year’s Armed Forces Day 2021. The peculiarity is not only based on the absence of marching bands and parades, but also on more ethical questions that are inimical to unhappiness and degradation of the essence of such a revered event as the Armed Forces Day celebrations.
For example, how can we approve opening of churches and mosques, and divest the revered AFD of its pomp and pageantry? How can a nation hold a Miss Earth Pageant where all and sundry conglomerated, consumed huge quantity of alcoholic beverages, and profusely intermingled, but divest its esteemed AFD? How can a nation approve the conglomeration of over 40 thousand people without masks within a stadium to watch football games but divest its traditional AFD? Crusades and revival tents are all over the city while worship centers and market places remain glutted with people, yet the traditional pomp and pageantry of the AFD has been divested or stripped.
Albeit, we must be mindful that in this world we live, there will always be more questions than answers.
As we anticipate the observance of this peculiar AFD, we must not forget to remember and honor our patriotic men in arms in ways befitting. The men who answered the call to defend this nation with their blood and bodies. But you see, while some men are responding to a call to defend this nation, others are defending a cause to divest it of its tradition.
To those ends, the observance of Armed Forces Day 2021, like South Africa, could be perceived with double lenses. First to the men in arms, it is a call to duty, to take cognizance of the oath they took to defend. Second, unlike the soldiers, policymakers in Liberia appear to be bent on responding to a different call, “The Call to Defend the Cause to Divest the AFD”. What a peculiarity!
I am simply just thinking thoughts.
About the author:
The Rivercess man, CEO and founder of the Diversified Educators Empowerment Project (DEEP), Mwalimu-koh M. Blonkanjay Jackson holds a Master of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Master of Science in Mathematics Education from St. Joseph’s University; he is a Yale University Teachers Initiative Math Fellow, and UPENN Teacher Institute Physics Fellow. He is a part-time lecturer at the UL Graduate School of Education. Mr. Jackson served the government of Liberia diligently for four years and returned to private practice as Development Specialist and Education Engineer. The Mwalimu-koh can be reached at 0886 681 315 / 0770 206 645.