Tears of the Sun is a 2003 film starring Bruce Willis about a U.S. Navy Seal rescue team sent into Nigeria during a fictional civil war.
In the Hollywood version, Lieutenant A.K. Waters and his U.S. Navy Seals team are sent into Nigeria to evacuate Dr. Lena Fiore Kendricks and three Christian missionaries following a coup d’état against the Akuza presidential family. The northern Hausa-Fulani Muslims then launch a genocide against the Igbo Christians in the southeast.
The Christian missionaries refuse to leave behind the sick and wounded. They are later slaughtered by Muslims in the Nigerian military. Kendricks agrees to be evacuated to Cameroon on the condition that Waters and his Navy Seals evacuate a group of Igbo refugees.
Lieutenant Waters deceives Kendricks in order to succeed in extracting his “critical persona.” The Igbos are left behind as Waters, Kendricks, and the Navy Seals take off in two helicopters. As they are flying out of Nigeria, the helicopters pass over the hospital where the Christian missionaries and the sick and wounded who were left behind have been massacred.
Kendricks has a White Man’s Burden moment on the flight, orders the helicopters to turn around, and evacuates the Igbo children. He decides to lead the rest of the refugees overland to the Cameroon border. After coming across another Hausa-Fulani massacre in an Igbo village, Waters intervenes militarily in the conflict and the Navy Seals take out the murderers and the rapists who are cutting the breasts off Igbo women.
Trekking through the jungle, Waters and the Navy Seals learn they are being pursued by the Nigerian military and that there is a spy among the refugees who is broadcasting their location. Eventually, they learn that there is an Igbo prince hiding out in the group who is the only heir to the Igbo royal bloodline. The prince explains that his family was wiped out because they supported democracy.
Lieutenant Waters and the Navy Seals do some soul searching and decide not to abandon the refugees. They decide to lead the refugees into Cameroon to make up for their “sins” of following orders and failing to intervene so many times in the past. A typical bloodbath follows when the Nigerian military attacks and Waters ends up losing several of his men before getting the refugees across the border.
As the credits begin to roll, a quote from Edmund Burke flashes across the screen: “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” The moral of the story is that America should have a liberal “duty to protect” foreign policy. We are guilty of “sin” unless we launch military interventions in Africa for humanitarian purposes.
Do these liberal clichés have any resemblance to the truth?
The truth is that Nigeria was the most spectacular example of an African state that made no sense whatsoever. The country was divided between three major ethnic groups – the Hausa-Fulani Muslims in the north, the Yoruba in the southwest, and the Igbo Christians in the southeast – and 240 minority groups that made up a third of the population.
Nigeria was launched as a constitutional republic with a federal government in which the north, west, and east had their own separate regional governments and civil service to diffuse ethnic and religious tension. The Hausa-Fulani made up 54 percent of the population and could dominate the federal government in a democracy through sheer numbers.
In the first six years of independence, Nigeria became notorious for the corruption and nepotism that penetrated every aspect of society. In 1966, the Hausa-Fulani dominated federal government was overthrown in a military coup that was initially popular in the north. The country’s top political leaders were executed by a group of Igbo military officers.
The coup brought General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi to power who overthrew democracy, instituted military rule, and attempted to create a unitary state. This aroused suspicion of an “Igbo conspiracy” in the north which resulted in a counter-coup by Hausa-Fulani officers that brought Yakubu Gowon to power who reversed Ironsi’s consolidation of the separate regional governments.
A massive pogrom erupted in which the Hausa-Fulani Muslims drove thousands of Igbos out of the north. More than a million Igbo refugees were driven out of the north and west back to Igboland in the east. The most reliable estimates are that only about 7,000 Igbos were killed in the wave of ethnic cleansing although the number was radically exaggerated to give it the appearance of a genocide.
The Igbos were outraged and retaliated by ordering all non-easterners to leave their region. On May 30, 1967, the Igbos under Governor Chukwuemeka Ojukwu proclaimed the independence of the Republic of Biafra, which contained Nigeria’s vast oilfields and was thus too important as a source of revenue for the federal government to be allowed to secede.
Colonel Gowon launched an invasion of Biafra to crush the rebellion and preserve the union. After three years of fighting for their independence, the Igbos were defeated and Biafra was conquered by the Nigerian federal government. Gowon even quoted Abraham Lincoln and talked of “binding up the nation’s wounds” and how there been “no victors and no vanquished” in the conflict.
OD celebrates Black History Month 2012 by remembering the Nigerian Civil War in which anywhere from 1 million to 3 million Igbos were killed to preserve the union. The Igbos were vanquished and their oil wealth was siphoned away into the private bank accounts of corrupt Nigerian politicians and businessmen.
Note: The Biafra national anthem was “Land of the Rising Sun.” The Igbo cause attracted a lot of sympathy in the United States and Europe. The Nigerian Civil War wasn’t about genocide or democracy though so much as it was about which ethnic group would control the rich oil fields in the Bight of Biafra.