“The old lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” – Dulce et Decorum Est, Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen was killed on November 4th, 1918 in Ors, France. Back then, he didn’t know that the war was about to end. Throughout the years he fought in the British Army he wrote the most amazing poetry on the pain of war for young people. Europe was sacrificing a whole generation of brilliant young men, and would twenty years later sacrifice another. He was killed in action aged 25; just seven days before the armistice.
A poet in Cauca
100 years later, on another continent entirely, we meet another poet: I’m not sure if Angel knew that the war was about to end when he faced the last bomb strikes against a FARC camping area in Cauca, Colombia in May 2015. He had only been in the camp for a couple of months, but peace negotiations had been in place for almost three years. The whole country was already preparing for the end of a war that had just started for Angel. Though he survived, most of his comrades were either killed in the bomb strike or executed when the army came for them.
When I think of my friend, I cannot help but compare him to Owen. I have heard Angel tell the story of the air strike many times, however I can’t help but cry when I hear his song “Guapi, 21 de mayo”. The way he rolls the r makes it sound like gunfire, and you can almost hear how the ground sounded when bombs were exploding into it through his music.
Angel was born in Soacha, Cundinamarca, a slum south of Bogotá, 24 years ago. However, he grew up in the Sumapaz moorland that had seen active guerrilla presence since the start of the conflict. It was there that he developed his “Alma Campesina”, rural soul. It was also where he met the guerrilla for the first time, aged only 13. He initially joined the National Liberation Army as an urban militia member, but as this group and the Armed Revolutionary Force of Colombia worked together he fell in love with the politics around war. He was convinced that only armed revolution could save the poor people of Colombia.
As the security situation became more difficult, he went to Cauca. It was there where he survived the strike that almost killed him. After that, he was captured and taken to a family center, from which he fled. He also had to serve national conscription for a year, after the army had almost killed him. He served in a military prison as military police.
Though he was interested in becoming a singer before the war, it was by singing his experiences that he could heal. His songs narrate the way he entered the guerrilla, how close he has come to death, but also his resistance and resilience. it was through art that he found a way to forgive himself, the lack of opportunities he still faces day after day, and the cruelty of being forcibly recruited as a child.
“Sigo resistiendo” - as he sings, he still resists.
This is a photo of Angel and Roberto Lacouture, a businessman from the Atlantic region who was kidnapped by the FARC in 1989. Both men went to a meeting with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and the Truth Commission. The floor on which they sat had been built out of FARC weapons. In this event Angel asked Lacouture for forgiveness. Even though he had not been born when Lacouture had been kidnapped, he was part of the group that had harmed him and his family and so he felt responsible in some way. As he sat down, Lacouture extended his hand towards Angel and forgave him. Maybe it was a first step to reconcile, after a very long war, generations that don’t understand each other.
Meeting Angel has been the most transformative experience in my time as a peacebuilder. I frequently say that becoming his friend and helping his message get across has been my most important contribution to peace. This is a plea for forgiveness from a young man to an old man, but also the promise of the old man never to send his children back to war. In recent years, two scandals broke out over government airstrikes killing children under 16 years old. This story encapsulates a generation that will not fight any more wars: No child, not here, not in Somalia, not in Afghanistan, not anywhere, should ever be sent to war again.
Angel asked for this article to be dedicated to all children around the world who fought, and still fight, in war.