They stood in the warm sun of the dry season. Seasoned combat veterans of years of conflict, their eyes darted nervously back and forth, glancing at me from time to time, not sure what to make of the situation they found themselves in. The breeze stirred the lush green trees of the bush upcountry in Sierra Leone, near Kabalah. United Nations peacekeepers fanned out around the perimeter nervously holding their weapons at high port.
The Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone was about to hold a town hall meeting with several hundred child soldiers who were now back in school trying to make some sense of their ruined lives. Standing before the prosecutor were murderers, rapists, mutilators and pillagers of all kinds, their average age around 15.
I took the bullhorn from one of the peacekeepers and asked them in Krio how they were all doing. They all mumbled "body fine." I stepped among them and for almost two hours talked to them and listened to them, developing a sense of what it must be like to be a member of what I call the lost generation of children in West Africa; children forced to kill their parents and then rip their way across the countryside in a whirlwind of terror the likes of which civilization rarely has seen, if at all.