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A GORY FOOTBALL GAME - STORIES FROM THE PEACE CORPS

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(THIS ACCOUNT WAS SENT IN VIA E-MAIL AND IS PUBLISHED HERE IN ITS ORIGINAL FORM) 

Hello again, Vivian, 

Just wanted to send a few notes about my own Biafran War encounters in 1967 while serving outside Abakaliki in what was then the Eastern Region/Biafra. 

Unlike most Peace Corps volunteers I was a rural development volunteer whose primary assignment was to establish oil palm cooperatives in the county just west of Abakaliki. After independence was declared, the people in my service area saw the potential upcoming chaos as an opportunity to revive old tribal loyalties. The people I worked with spoke a rural dialect of Igbo. We were, as I recall, about 10 miles from the Northern Region Border, whose residents were non-Hausa plateau people. While at peace for many years, the groups on both sides of this remote, rural border, apparently had festering antagonisms. When independence was declared a consequence was that the national police were reluctant to provide routine enforcement and patrols on the regional borders. One day a month or so before my termination from the Peace Corps, I drove with my Nigerian counterpart to a village where we had made contact throughout my two years but had no active projects. I forget exactly why we made the trip, but it might simply have been to bring my time to closure with the people who lived there. When I arrived at the local elementary school I saw a soccer game in progress. When I approached closer, one of the local Igbo men approached our jeep and pointed out that the ball they were using was in fact the recently severed head of one of their "neighbours" who lived across the border in the north. This moment was simply opportune to carry on long simmering hostilities.

This incident which seemed to have little or nothing to do with the contemporary Igbo/Hausa conflict was a good illustration of unintended consequences of war. 

A few years later I served as an artillery crewperson in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, where the political communist vs.democracy tensions served a rationale for a fairly major world conflict. The troops I knew saw little difference between the communist enemy we were fighting and the often corrupt South Vietnamese whom the American government touted as the torch bearers of freedom and civilization. Both my Nigeria/Biafra and Vietnam experiences were clear lessons about the complexities of war. In fact they were lifelong lessons. I have not been back to either Vietnam or Nigeria, but I'm hoping that those of us who were affected by war more than a half century ago are able to use our experiences to make something better than the horrors of war out of understanding the nuances of the world around us. 

Just some quick notes, Vivian. My best wishes for success with your project. 

--- Mike Goodkind

 

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Sunday, 22 May 2022

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