In 1980, Alex Tolbert was only 4-years-old when the Liberian government of President William
Tolbert was overthrown in a military coup. His father -- the older brother of the ousted president -- and dozens of others were lined up at the Barclay Training Center in Monrovia and executed by firing squad. Little Alex was too young to understand what was happening.
"As I grew up, I heard the story. People told me how it happened," he said.
Time for Revenge
Nine years later on Christmas Eve 1989, 13-year-old Alex decided it was time for revenge. Despite his mother's desperate pleas, he decided to become a soldier in Liberia's civil war.
"One day, I just left the city of Monrovia," said Alex. "I left the city with just trousers -- and I headed for the rebel control area."
He wandered in the bush for days before meeting a rebel soldier and telling him he had come to join the army.
"After a few months of military engagement, I was taken by the commander to a military base," said Alex. "I was taken along with the bigger boys, and was told to observe them, move like them, do like they do."
A Quick Study
It was military training and Alex Tolbert learned quickly and very well.
"I became a full-fledged soldier…"
Very soon, Alex was a leading member of the dreaded SBU -- the Small Boys Unit -- young boys who had lost their innocence and become hardened by the ravages of war.
Alex Tolbert dreamed of avenging his late father's execution, rising quickly within the ranks and becoming a soldier others would either fear or respect.
"I became a commander at the age of 16," said Alex. "I first started commanding small groups. Like a platoon comprised of 60 men."
Life in the bush was tough. To meet their needs, Alex and his platoon harassed, ransacked and looted the property of villagers.
Daily survival was based on instinct…and for many soldiers during the war, that included charms and rituals performed by witch doctors. Alex and his colleagues believed in the power
of "Ziki," a charm that supposedly prevented bullets from piercing a soldier's body during combat.
"Darkness" is the name of another charm Alex used. The witchdoctors claimed it had the power to make soldiers invisible.
"When I appeared before the enemy, he didn't appear to see me, but I saw him very clearly," said Alex.
Obeying the Witchdoctors
Alex was told the charms would only work as long as sacrifices were made regularly and as long as rules were obeyed. He was not allowed to eat certain foods. No one was allowed to touch his left hand. And during combat, he was told to never turn back because he would be hit by a bullet.
Witchdoctors controlled his spiritual life.
He survived a close range attack when he and his men ran into enemy forces. A rocket-propelled grenade was fired at Alex at point blank range.
"The smoke and dust went up in the air," said Alex. "I walked through, and, to the surprise of the enemy, I was still moving on."
Alex began to build a reputation as a fearless and seemingly invincible soldier.
While preparing for a conflict, a witch doctor gave instructions that no soldier should move ahead of him. Failure to heed the warning, the witch doctor claimed, would result in death during battle.
In the heat of battle, Alex disobeyed the witch doctor's instruction and pressed ahead. He believed that gun shots without casualties were just a waste of ammunition. When the rest of the group finally caught up with him, the witch doctor was puzzled.
"He told me, 'You are a devil'," said Alex. "And from there on, my friends began to call me devil, devil, devil. "
A Reputation as a Devil
It's a reputation that would lead his colleagues -- and even his enemies -- to refer to him as General Devil.
"I can't actually remember ever losing a battle," said Alex. "Whenever it was said that General Devil was in route, the town got empty before we came."
It was a brutal lifestyle that seemed to give him the power he craved and the respect he felt was his due.
On one occasion, Alex and his troops got lost in the bush. They were planning to attack a nearby village. While looking for directions, they ran into a woman who told them how to find their way. Unknown to Alex and his men, she had given them wrong directions and sent word that General Devil was on his way.
Alex and his men were ambushed.
"Three of my men died in the ambush," said Alex.
It was an act of betrayal that he refused to forgive. They returned to the village and rounded up all the men, women and children. He and his fellow rebels demanded to know the identity of the person who had betrayed them.
The villagers realized that a confession would jeopardize their lives. They denied the charges and pleaded for mercy.
The Worst Atrocity
Tragically, the rebels recognized the woman's daughter. Alex Tolbert then ordered his men to carry out one of the worst atrocities of his military career.
The whole village was killed.
Every man and woman, with the exception of the children, was forced into a building that was set on fire. In one day, a whole village was wiped out.
Today, Alex Tolbert is still haunted by the cries of those who died that day.
"I was sitting outside listening to the cry of these people in the fire," he said.
Seeking Supernatural Protection
The more atrocities General Devil committed, the more he was driven to seek help from the devil himself. Each month he performed rituals and sacrifices to appease the gods and obtain what he believed was supernatural protection.
But General Devil was about to come face to face with a supernatural power beyond anything he had ever encountered. An aunt said she would like to introduce him to someone. She told me she could take me to a woman of God who could help with the sacrifice.
The woman was an evangelist. General Devil found her words puzzling.
"Do you know the Lord has arrested you?" she said. "You think you have come here to perform a sacrifice, but Christ has already performed a sacrifice for you."
"I did not know what she was talking about," said Alex. "She asked me to lift up my hands and asked if I wanted to accept Christ."
Evangelist Leads Him to Christ
Alex was a broken young man. The evangelist prayed for him and boldly destroyed his charms. She also told Alex that God wanted to give him a new name.
"She gave me the name Paul," he said.
Today, Paul Tolbert, formerly known as General Devil, says he is saddened by the atrocities he committed as a boy soldier … for the many innocent people he killed.
Why should God forgive him?
"This is something that up until today, as I speak to you, I refuse to forgive myself," he said. "Sometimes when I roll back the curtain, I see some people begging saying, 'Son -- just have mercy on poor me.' Whenever I look back at these things, many days, I'm into tears. I ask myself, 'Why should God forgive such a man like me? God why?' There must be a reason why God had to spare my life. We persecuted the church. We killed innocent people. Why should I be alive?
A Debtor in the House of God
"I am not worthy of the breath I breathe. I call myself a debtor in the house of God."
Today, Paul Alex Tolbert is a completely changed man.
"There is no peace, there is no success with the devil," he said. "Once you encounter Christ, your life can never be the same."
So what does the future hold? Paul Tolbert says:
"When people call me General Devil, I always say 'I'm not a former general. I am still a general, but call me a transformed general … I stand this time for righteousness and holiness, not for destruction any longer. I am a general in the army of the Lord.'
"My plan is never to get tired. Never to turn back until the battle is won. There's a saying that it is not over until it is over. It is not over until Christ has won.