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Abolish February 11 Holiday

By Arthur B. Dennis, MPA, MSW                 Arthur B. Dennis

 

On January 26, 1957, the National Legislature enacted a law marking February 11 each year a National Holiday, to honor President Arthur Barclay and citizens who dislodged Major Mckay Cadell’s Monrovia invasion on February 11, 1909.

                  Major Cadell event that gave birth to February 11 holiday

It began in 1871 with a default Loan of $500,000 under President Edward J. Roye and ended in 1906 under President Arthur Barclay, when an agreement was signed between the government of Liberia and the British financiers in London. The agreement called for the creation of a standing army to collect taxes and other revenues to pay back the British loans. The agreement further provided that the army be commanded by British officers.

On February 6, 1908, the Liberian National Legislature passed an Act creating the new army, known and styled “Liberian Frontier Force (LFF).” One Captain Mckay Cadell, a British Army Officer serving on duty in Sierra Leone, was appointed and promoted to the rank of Major to command the Army. He arrived in Liberia with two British officers, along with over hundred indigenous Sierra Leonean soldiers; mostly from the Mendi tribe wearing British style uniforms and caps—all stamped with the emblems and seals of the British Monarchy. The local citizens in Monrovia were terrified by their strange military attires.

Upon arrival, Major Cadell told the government authorities in Monrovia that he was appointed by the British Colonial Office in London; as such, he would take orders directly from London. And truly, throughout the period of his service, Major Cadell defiantly refused to be supervised by the Government of Liberia.

In the months that followed, Major Cadell appointed himself to the positions of City Mayor, Police Inspector, and Tax Collector. He unilaterally ordered the construction of the soldiers’ barracks exactly where the Executive Mansion stands today. The barracks was later named “Camp Johnson” in honor of the Hilary Wright Johnson family who donated the land for construction. Camp Johnson Road was also named after Camp Johnson Barracks.

On February 5, 1909, the British Consular General in Liberia, Captain Braitwaite Wallis informed the British government that a mutiny was brewing in the Liberian Army. The term“mutiny” as used in military service, refers to a rebellion or revolt against a constituted authority by soldiers. On the next morning following the news of the mutiny, people woke up in surprise and saw a British warship at the Port of Monrovia heavily armed and ready for war. News report reaching the Government of Liberia also revealed that Major Cadell had dug a 6-foot fox holes around the barracks, with machine guns pointing directly towards the city.

After doing so, Major Cadell submitted a letter to President Barclay as well to the National Legislature, threatening violence if his soldiers pay arrears were not addressed. While the government was looking into the matter, Major Cadell soldiers took the streets in violent protest, demanding pay arrears or else, they would take the law into their own hands. By then, President Barclay had received credible news report of a possible military coup.  President Barclay ordered Major Cadell to resign. But he refused. By evening time, the writing on the wall for a violent regime change was crystal clear everywhere in Monrovia.

President Barclay ordered the Fifth Militia Regiment as well as all able-bodied citizens in Monrovia to take up arms and defend the country. The Fifth Regiment quickly assembled under one Col. Isaac Mort and deployed on the streets as well as around the barracks of the rebel soldiers. Citizens in local communities in Monrovia also took up machetes and other weapons of war to fight the rebel soldiers. In the final analysis, Major Cadell and his rebel soldiers surrendered and ordered to leave the country.

On March 4, 1909, the U. S. government dispatched a fact-finding commission to investigate the February 11 event in Liberia. The Commission’s report, among other things, recommended that the Liberian Army be reorganized and trained by U. S. Army officers. In 1912, a team of U. S. Army officers commanded by Col. Charles B. Young arrived in Liberia to perform the reorganization and training task recommended in the U. S. commission’s report.

Liberia’s Philosophy of a Standing Army

      History tells us that the Founding Fathers of Liberia landed January 7, 1822 and were under constant attacks by native tribes. Yet, after independence in 1847, they had no plan whatsoever to establish a standing army. Largely because they maintained the fears harbored by American Founding Fathers.

During the early period of their independence, American Founding Fathers expressed fears that a standing army would pose a threat to their democracy and individual liberty; as such, they would prefer to maintain a fee for service citizen-militia in peacetime. In time of crisis, the citizen-militia would be mobilized to defend the nation, and would be demobilized after the crisis was over. This was the first American philosophy about a standing army.

However, in the end, they resolved to establish a small peacetime standing army to be expanded by mobilization of able-bodied citizens to defend the nation in time of crisis. They also resolved that the army be subject to civilian control under the command of the President as Commander-in-Chief to monitor their activities.

Our Founding Fathers, for their part, maintained a peacetime citizen-militia for national defense. However, after the Liberian Army completed the U. S. Army reorganization and training program, Liberia adopted the American philosophy of a small peacetime army to be expanded by citizen-militia in time of crisis.

Abolish February 11 Holiday

        February 11, 1909 event has positive and negative sides. The positive side was the heroic deeds of the citizens who took up arms and dislodged Major Cadell and his rebel soldiers. The negative side was the military revolt planned and executed by active duty-soldiers of the Army to destabilize the very country they took oath to defend. Though it was the very first military revolt against a democratically-elected government in Liberia, it confirmed the fears our Founding Fathers maintained against the creation of a standing army.

The second military revolt was the April 12, 1980 coup. April 12 was declared a national holiday but was later abolished. The argument raised against this holiday was that April 12 is one of the negative events in history that seeks to divide the nation; as such, it should only be preserved for the purpose of history, not celebration. By doing so, Liberians would learn from history and be guided against the issues that triggered the April 12 military revolt. Many citizens also raised the same argument against Matilda Newport Holiday, and it was abolished.

Therefore, if we continue to celebrate February 11 as a holiday, critical thinkers would believe we are celebrating the major incident of the February 11, 1909 event, which is the military revolt against a democratically-elected government. In our view, the citizens who dislodged Major Cadell and his rebel soldiers should be honored not with a special holiday but with a “symbolic recognition” to be remembered in history. They were civilians who took up arms and performed their patriotic duties in accordance with the national defense law, requiring all able-bodied citizens to defend the country in time of emergency.

Moreover, the Special Holiday Honor for national patriotic service will open a pandora’s box. Because during the civil conflict, every citizen group who took arms claimed they were defending the country. Even if it were true as claimed, they were doing so in keeping with the national defense law. As such, there is no need to honor any of them with a special holiday for their so-called patriotic duties.

Therefore, February 11 Holiday should be completely abolished in order to send a strong message to future generations that Liberians are no longer prepared to welcome or celebrate anymore military revolt or politically-motivated violence or insurrection designed to divide this nation. We seek nothing less than a peaceful democratic change and the Constitution should be a Bible for all of us.

To replace February 11, Defense and AFL authorities should return to the drawing board and come up with a new Armed Forces Day celebration for the Army, Navy, and Air Force. On August 31, 1949, the U. S. Defense and military authorities came up with their own day and announced the creation of a single Armed Forces Day (May 20) for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

 

About the Author: Arthur B. Dennis is a retired Army Brigadier-General residing in New Jersey. He can be reached at 609-328-5260 or korso2006@msn.com.

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