Have you read: Boy soldier tells terrifying tale
June 6, 2007
“A Long Way Gone” by Ishmael Beah
According to recent estimates, there are anywhere from 50 to 70 million AK-47 rifles on planet Earth. Considering how ubiquitous they are, chances are that they are being used in one of the 50 conflicts that pepper our globe. Of those millions of AK-47s, chances are that 300,000 of them are in the hands of a child soldier. One such boy soldier was the author of “A Long Way Gone” – Ishmael Beah.
Ishmael was 13 when he was recruited by the Sierra Leone army to fight in the civil war that lasted from 1991 to 2002. Ishmael was a boy soldier from 1992 to 1994, when he was removed from the fighting by UNICEF. He was 16 at the time of his removal from the conflict and was able to move to the United States, where he continued his education, eventually earning his degree from Oberlin College in 2004.
While many boy soldiers have been profiled by journalists, first-hand accounts are very rare. Ishmael Beah’s account of his time as a boy soldier is a harrowing tale of a good soul’s survival in the worst of conditions.
As a young boy, Ishmael was fairly well off for a young child in Sierra Leone. He was well-educated, spoke passable English and liked rap music. Civil war swept through Sierra Leone in 1992, but it took some time for the conflict to come to Ishmael’s town. Ishmael would hear of the war first as rumors, then as the sound of gunshots as it eventually consumed his life. Ishmael, along with others boys from his village, fled the war. He and his friends managed to stay on the road, barely surviving, until they were conscripted into the Sierra Leone army.
Ishmael’s account of his life as a young soldier is terrifying. He finds that he is capable of the most inhumane of acts. His life as a soldier is filled with violence, drugs and a casual indifference to life. Addicted to cocaine, marijuana and other readily available drugs, Ishmael would stay awake for weeks at a time.
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War became a lifestyle that consumed him, and his superiors kept him and other young boys continually high on drugs or fighting the war. The deprivation of contemplative time combined with drugs allowed the army to turn the young men into very effective and violent killing machines. By the time Ishmael was removed from the war he was a much damaged individual.
Ishmael eventually recovered his humanity with the help of UNICEF and other agencies. He was chosen to address the United Nations regarding the plight of child soldiers in world, and continues this work to this very day. “A Long Way Gone” is a war story that should be required reading, for it is a tale of the triumph of the best of human nature.
– Mark Dulyanai is a library assistant at the South Lake Tahoe Branch Library.