Other popular names among reborn child soldiers included "Buck Naked," "Human Eater," "Dirty Ways," and, of course, "Rambo." They were supposed to make the soldiers forget about their past lives and live up to their tough guy images. After all, a guy named "Rambo" doesn't wanna be seen laying down arms and hugging things out. But there was another reason for the new names. Dr. Woodward explains: "Child soldiers are given nicknames to protect their true identities ... There is always fear of reprisal when the conflict is over, and any action that enables the soldiers to hide their identities and possible war crimes is helpful."
Many Child Soldiers Willingly Reenlist, Because Fighting Is All They Know
After Taylor took over in Liberia in 1997, it took less than two years for his government's rampant corruption, torture, murder of dissidents, and other crimes to spark the Second Liberian Civil War, this time with rebels fighting against him. By then, Puck had already been released from military duty, and had no obligation to involve himself in any of the fighting. But that's precisely what he did, willingly joining Liberia's Armed Forces, led by the man whose militia kidnapped and abused him a few years prior. Either Liberia has the greatest GI Bill in history, or something else was at play here.
"At first I did hate the NPFL, but gradually, as months, years passed by, I got adjusted and focused on how to survive. My hate started to grow for the enemies. I reenlisted because the rebel groups that were attacking the government were all our former enemies, and there's this saying: once an enemy, always an enemy ... On many occasions, I was attacked by members of other units, and my crew usually came in swiftly to rescue me. And I felt obligated to do the same when called upon."
But more than that, Puck's decision to reenlist was simply a matter of not having that many career options, what with a huge CV gap that just read: Trust me, you don't want to know. "I mainly reenlisted for my own protection. I knew no other skill to survive on. I needed some kind of protection/security, and reenlisting into the service could have provided those needs. I believe if I had a skill, or a kind of payable job to keep me busy, I wouldn't have reenlisted. But all I knew was fighting, because I was a child when this whole fighting business was introduced to me. And up to the time of election, before the fighting began the second time, I had no other means of livelihood, and fighting was a kind of employment."
Unfortunately, there's not much of a retirement plan.
It's Difficult For Former Child Soldiers To Return To A Normal Life
In 2003, the Second Civil War ended, bringing an end to Taylor's rule and over 14 years of conflict, which claimed nearly a million Liberian lives. But what should have been a time of celebration was instead a period of great fear and uncertainty for Puck: "I left the army in 2003. My weapons were voluntarily turned over to the UN ... The aftermath was sad and disappointing for us at that point, but since we wanted peace, we accepted the results, and tried to find our ways in different locations, with little or no hope for the future."
According to Dr. Woodward, because of their stunted educational and emotional development, few former child soldiers will be able to reenter society without major intervention: "Most likely, fewer than 25 percent will return to a semblance of a normal life ... There are very limited resources for former child soldiers. Internationally, UNICEF provides rehabilitative services for those who are still children. For adults, Doctors Without Borders provides medical services to the best of their ability, as does the Mercy Ship and UNESCO (the United Nations)."
But the problem is getting the soldiers to ask for that help in the first place. Despite most of them wanting to continue their education, many worry that if they sign up for help, they will be tried and sentenced for the things they did during the war. This makes it difficult for them to receive the few benefits and training programs that are available to them. As for Puck, he managed to avoid that fate with help from Dr. Woodward:
"Since I [stopped being] a soldier, I relocated into Ghana, and there I met Dr. Lucinda in 2007. At that encounter, she became a great help in helping me put all my broken pieces together, and also became my counselor and instructor. From that point, I started doing some community volunteering services in the Buduburam refugee camp in Ghana, later I continue providing my voluntary service back home in Liberia as a social worker. Since then, I've just been working in different social-work-related fields, and in different locations, for NGOs and INGOs in Liberia and Ghana."
But what best helped Puck get back on his feet, working with victims of civil wars, came to him by pure luck. He was one of only 30 people chosen for the counselor project headed by Dr. Woodward, while there are still thousands of former child soldiers in need of help with nowhere to turn. Sadly, this often includes their own families, who are too afraid to take them back in. See, this is why action movies cut off right after the fighting ends: Nobody wants to hear about Fuck Cat struggling to live with his past in a world that would rather forget him.
Lucinda Woodward, PhD is assistant professor of psychology at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Indiana. Her teaching encompasses social, personality, and clinical psychology, and her research interests include the interpersonal circumplex, pets and personality, child soldiers, and PTSD. A veteran of international fieldwork herself, as an instructor, Dr. Woodward is dedicated to encouraging her students to explore the boundaries of their world beyond the classroom. Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter.
If you loved this article and want more like it, please support our site with a visit to our Contribution Page.
Also check out We Talked To ISIS Citizens: What You Won't Hear In The News and We Met Syria's War Refugees: 7 Awful Things They Told Us.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel, and check out How ISIS Uses Video Games & Hollywood Tricks For Recruiting (ISIL), and watch other videos you won't see on the site!
Follow our new Pictofacts Facebook page, and we'll follow you everywhere.