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Amputation as a Strategy of Terror in Sierra Leone

Kate Fogelberg and Alexandra Thalmann

Amputation, the loss of one or more limbs, is not a new phenomenon. It has been practiced for an inestimable length of time as a result of acute trauma or chronic vascular disease. These are the causes mainly thought of when discussing amputation in regions like North America (Canadian Medical Association Journal 2000). The loss of limbs as a result of war is not new, either. Amputation of soldiers’ limbs during the American Civil War (Civil War Medicine 2004), during the 20th century’s two World Wars, or during numerous other armed conflicts has been a common feature and consequence of injuries sustained during combat operations. The practice of amputation as a terror tool has historical antecedents as well. The colonial legacy of Belgium’s King Leopold II includes the use of such strategies to subdue the people of the Congo; the amputation of hands or ears was a common punishment imposed on the colonized when the Belgians deemed that their rubber production was insufficient (Hochschild 1998). Sierra Leone is one of several countries in the 1990s in which amputation was used as a terror tool. The situation in Sierra Leone was initially ignored by the global community and written off as another small-scale, local civil war. By the time international press coverage had been achieved, the conflict had left more than 20,000 people maimed and between 50,000 and 70,000 dead (Campbell 2002).

High Plains Applied Anthropologist No. 2, Vol. 24, Fall, 2004 pp 158 – 173

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