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Published: Wednesday, 3/14/2012

Viral crisis

The video Kony 2012, about Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army, has attracted more than 100 million views on YouTube and lots of donations to Invisible Children, the San Diego nonprofit that created it. It is also an example of well-meaning Americans oversimplifying a complicated, tragic issue.

Worse, the purported objective of Invisible Children -- U.S. military intervention -- has already been tried and misfired badly, resulting in the deaths of 1,000 Africans.

Kony, once a Roman Catholic altar boy, and the Christian, tribal-based LRA of which he is the self-proclaimed prophet, have been active in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic since the 1980s. The army of 200 to 300 members terrorizes local villages, hacking limbs off victims, forcing young boys to be soldiers, and abducting young girls as sex slaves.

In 2009, American, Ugandan, and Congolese forces tried to trap Kony and his force. The LRA escaped and went on a burning, looting, and killing spree that claimed more than 1,000 civilian lives.

Last year, the Obama Administration sent 100 U.S. Special Operations forces to Uganda to support renewed efforts to catch the LRA. Mr. Kony and his comrades eluded capture again.

Invisible Children, while it has increased awareness of Kony's atrocities, has been criticized for spending too much on salaries, travel, and marketing, and too little on rehabilitation of children who have escaped from the LRA.

"We've never pretended all the money goes to the ground, because we don't believe that's the best use," Invisible Children's Zach Barrows told CBS News. "The best use is spreading the word and then doing the highest-impact programs possible on the ground."

Americans need to learn more about this humanitarian crisis, but they should also care about the proper American response. U.S. military intervention would be ill-conceived, unrealistic, and dangerous to the people it professes to help.

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