Shidane Arone’s body was buried in his hometown of Beletweyne, but his image ended up in the Canadian War Museum. For more than a decade, the case of Shidane Arone has been a tumultuous roar among Canadians. In late 1992, about nine hundred soldiers of the Canadian Airborne Regiment were dispatched to Somalia. The Regiment’s mission in Somalia had been to help alleviate the misery that Somalis were going through at the time. More specifically, the soldiers’ duty had been to safeguard civilians against the armed gangs who were roving all over the places and were killing civilians at random. At the time, Somalia was engulfed by unscrupulous civil wars and unprecedented famines. People were dying by the thousands, but they did not know what they were dying for or who was killing them! While bullets were killing some people, other peoples’ lives were being taken by hunger and acute malnutrition. At that desperate time, Canada wanted to help Somalis in their habitations. However, what many Somalis cheered for and welcomed turned into a nightmare. Actually, many victimized Somalis did not ask for trouble; they needed a helping hand, but their expectation was not fulfilled.
Shidane Arone was only 16 years old when his head was cruelly bashed and his innocent life was taken by a sadistic soldier who was sent to Somalia in order to assist civilians, not to murder them. Unfortunately, Shidane found himself in the wrong place, what he thought to be a glimmer of hope proved to be a deadly end. Hunger drove the poor teenager to where death lay in wait for him; he approached the Regiment’s compound, hoping that he would get some provisions that could extinguish and quench the fire that hunger was kindling in his stomach. However, his hope vanished, and his thirst and hunger transformed into death, that slow death. As Shidane was being tortured, he screamed, pled for his life and called for help, but nobody came to his rescue. Although his whimper awakened some soldiers who were sleeping at the time, they did not salvage the vulnerable boy from death and did not attend to the matter at all. While Corporal Clayton Matchee, a member of the Canadian Airborne Regiment in Beletweyne, was torturing and murdering Shidane Arone, Kyle Brown, another solider from the same regiment, was taking pictures of the unaided teenager. At that sinister time of March 1993, Shidane’s soul was separated from its hunger baked body.
To this date, Shidane’s image portrays the brutal way in which he had been tortured and murdered. In 1995, Canada conducted a prolonged inquiry about Shidane’s miserable death. The aim of the inquiry was to find out what went awry and the circumstances that surrounded the death of the innocent youth. However, I am not in a position here to unravel the findings of the inquiry or how it was concluded. I spare the details of this case for other fellow contributors who might be willing to stretch out the case and elaborate on it a bit more.
A new Canadian War Museum was opened on May 8, 2005. Many Canadians across the country celebrated the official opening of the new Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. The opening marked the 60th anniversary of victory in Europe. The mission of the Museum, as Canada’s prime Minster put it, is “to honour all those brave men and women, who have lived through wars, both overseas and on the home front, by sharing their stories with future generations.” The Museum holds thousands of assorted artifacts. Of these artifacts, though, there is one piece of artifact that has stood out and has enraged some Canadians; it is the picture of Shidane Arone.
On the one hand, there are Canadians who are averse to the inclusion of Shidane’s portraits in the Museum’s collection; the opponents argue that such a portrait mortifies and degrades the reputation of the Canadian military, for the image shows the blood soaked head of the helpless boy being bashed and squashed by a Canadian soldier. For instance, Cliff Chadderton, a war veteran who chairs the National Council of Veterans, was infuriated by the inclusion of Shidane Arone’s paintings in the Museum. The veteran condemned the portrait and threatened to boycott the Museum’s ceremonial opening altogether. As he says, the portrait is embarrassing and does not bring any integrity to the country. To him, “ the paintings are a trashy, insulting tribute and should not be part of a Museum honouring Canada’s military heritage.” Another Canadian comments on Shidane’s portrait and says, “One of the first images to confront visitors when they enter the new Canadian War Museum is not about war but about shame.”
On the other hand, there are other Canadians who disagree with Mr. Chadderton on the whole issue. They are of the opinion that Shidane Arone’s paintings are as good as any other war artifacts in the Museum. After all, Shidane’s paintings tell their side of the story; they portray how the poor boy was tormented and murdered by a sadistic solider who was paid and sustained by Canadian taxpayers in order to convey the country’s values and justice to unstable parts of the world. Hence, the advocates argue that it is not Shidane’s image that lowers the reputation of the Canadian military, but it is the barbaric actions of the Canadian solider who murdered the blameless boy.
The murderer shuttered the future and stability of Shidane’s parents and at the same time belittled Canada’s heritage and values. Here, Dr. Laura Brandon, the Museum’s curator of war art, is adamant about keeping Shidane’s paintings in the Museums. In the words of Dr. Brandon, “ It is part of Canada’s military history. We are a military history Museum: our job is to tell… military history, warts and all.”
Shidane Arone’s case has sparked a tumultuous debate in the Canadian War Museum. When one sees the victim’s image in the media, one gets sick and saddened. The image speaks for itself. A Canadian soldier inhumanely victimized the boy in his hometown of Beletweyne, Hiiraan, Somalia, in 1993. While Some Canadians say the portrait should be excluded from the Museum’s collection, other Canadians say the portrait ought to be part of the Museum’s holdings.