Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Child soldier-turned-Marine-turned-fitness coach's story sounds fishy

This Reuters profile is about a man called Tchicaya Missamou, who says is is a former child soldier in Africa who became a US Marine. He is now a fitness instructor in southern California and is on a book tour (which is how he comes to be the subject of a profile. I wonder how many personalities, ideas and language memes first enter the public notice through book tours) for his memoir "In the Shadow of Freedom."

According to the story:
Growing up in Congo-Brazzaville as one of 16 siblings born to his father's seven wives, Missamou's childhood was shaped by the violence that sprung up in the 1990s following the oil-rich central African nation's first democratic elections. Missamou describes how, at around 14, he and his teenage friends were handed guns and a few grenades and put in charge of a checkpoint with orders to block members of rival ethnic groups from entering the area.

"I saw awful things during this time," he wrote in the book... Violence broke out again in 1997, and this time Missamou became a war profiteer. He assembled a convoy of armed men and struck lucrative deals with Brazzaville whites, most of whom had fled, to rescue abandoned suitcases of cash and valuables. "The Congo was falling apart, but I was rich," he wrote.

As Missamou's success grew, so did his notoriety. With the help of his father, a police captain, he fled Africa while still a teenager. He ended up in California and found work at a martial arts studio. There, Missamou met a U.S. marine recruit who encouraged him to enlist. Soon, Missamou was deployed overseas, going to Afghanistan and Iraq to fight for his adopted homeland. Through an executive order that fast-tracked citizenship applications of U.S. soldiers, Missamou became a U.S. citizen in 2003....

But Missamou, who wears his crisp, white U.S. Marines uniform on his book tour, said he also wants to give back to his adopted country. In 2007, he opened The Warrior Fitness Camp in Valencia, California, where he trains students in military techniques as well as the skills he learned as a child in the African bush.
Really? Is this all from the guy's book and from an interview with him? Did the reporter do any checking at all? Is it even possible to do fact-checking on the memoir of someone with a resume like that? Or are we just supposed to take the guy at his word? Of course we are.

It's the "white Marines uniform" that made my bullshit detector go off. Who goes around the country on a book tour in a dress uniform? Not even Colin Powell. I mean, really -- could this guy's story possibly be true?

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