About the Book
Ishmael Beah writes his life experience as an unwilling child soldier in Sierra Leone’s civil war in the account called A Long Way Gone. At the age of 12 years the village Beah called home is attacked but he escapes the violence because he is with a group of his friends elsewhere performing rap music. In the village where they visited for their rap fun they heard about the attack on their village “According to the teachers, the rebels had attacked the mining areas in the afternoon. The sudden outburst of gunfire had caused people to run for their lives in different directions” (Beah 2007). With these friends and his brother they wander among the various villages looking for both shelter and food as this becomes their day-to-day struggle just to exist and find themselves doing things they would never have believed possible including stealing food from other children.
In time, Beah finds himself in the unwanted positon of becoming a soldier in the army and even worse becoming an unthinking killing machine full of violent action. Brainwashed the army becomes Beah’s family and he believes every rebel he kills avenges his family’s death. Beah and the other boy soldiers get addicted to drugs as they use them to give them the false courage they need to do and face the horrors of being a soldier while repressing emotions they cannot allow themselves to feel (Beah 2007).
One day Beah’s lieutenant turns Beah and the other boy soldiers over to the care of UNICEF at the rehabilitation center. Here he faces struggling with his past and trying to imagine a future amid the compassion and love he receives from his nurse Esther. This kindness opens Beah to a much needed understanding and forgiveness starting with himself. With locating to Freetown, he finds a true welcome from his new family that bring him the salvation he needs because of their kindness and support. His next life changing experience occurs when the United Nations successfully provides rehabilitation and later invites him and the other children-soldiers and refugees of war to New York City to tell their story (Beah 2007).
It is this experience that teaches Beah that others suffered and survived the horrors of war and where he meets Laura Simms his future foster mother who is also a storyteller who sees the significance of Beah telling his story to the world. Returning to Freetown in Sierra Leone once again circumstances finds Beah amid the war. With the death of his uncle, Beah feels his nation to the neighboring county of Guinea where he finds the eventual opportunity to immigrate to the United States (Beah 2007). The story of Beah is a story of the psychological and emotional journey of a child knowing the unimaginable horrors of war and how he overcomes these realities making a new life some only dream.
The Realities of Necessity
In his story Beah makes it clear the only way an inexperienced adolescent becomes a killer of human beings and psychologically and emotionally survives such an experience is through the sheer will to live through the realities of doing what is necessary. Unlike so many child-soldiers around the globe who volunteer as a means for survival (Hughes 2008) Beah has no choice. Before he became a soldier the transformation began from the moment his village was destroyed and reached topped off with the separation from and last time he ever saw his older brother and friends running from the rebels. “I became frustrated with living in fear” (Beah 62). Much later after living in this fear from village to forest and swamp back to village after village eventually Beah encounters the government army fighting the rebels and a time of recuperation from his starvation and his struggle to survive he becomes a soldier. His life then is explained so clearly what his child’s mind witnessed, “In the swamp we ran past people who were stuck in the mud, past handicapped people who couldn’t be helped, for anyone who stopped to do so was risking his own life” (Beah 37).
In this encounter, the brain washing of the people – of the young minds like Beah lay in the rhetoric of assigning the rebels as soulless humans deserving to die and of the revenge they received form those brought into service in the army. This brainwashing – a psychological action is the center of the change that made the next part of Beah’s journey a means for his emotional and psychological survival. Through the well worded engagement of the child-soldiers and the villagers, drawing on their grief, fear, and frustration, remembers and shares how, “People began shouting, ‘We must kill them all. We must make sure they never walk this earth again.’ All of us hated the rebels, and we were more than determined to stop them from capturing the village” (Beah 133). It is this emotional influence on the psyche of Beah that permeates into his very soul that allows him to overcome the horrors that follow as he becomes a soldier. Children throughout the history of humans have served as soldiers as recently as Iraq and Afghanistan. Experts conclude as many as 300,000 child soldiers exist in the world conflicts today (Hughes 2008).
The conscript of children into the global war hot armies is different from the drafted American soldiers serving in previous wars because it is not only immoral it is illegal in the international court of law as expressed by the United Nations (U.N) (Child-soldiers.org 2015). Nonetheless, according to Hughes during the Gulf War 8,000 children under 10 to 15 years old were recruited by Saddam (2008). States may accept youthful volunteers for military service at age 16 (Child-solciers.org 2015) but the law of 18 years of age holds in non-state wars. Such conscripts involving children also counters the International Labor Law that makes it illegal to have people under the age of 18 in any employ (including military conscription) that jeopardizes health, safety, and morals of children (Child-soldiers.org 2015) as was the case affecting the psychological and emotional health of Baer and the other children conscripted to military service in Sierra Leone. Beah describes the fear, “Young boys were immediately recruited, and the initials RUF were carved wherever it pleased the rebels, with a hot bayonet. This not only meant that you were scarred for life but that you could never escape from them, because escaping with the carving of the rebels’ initials was asking for death, as soldiers would kill you without any questions and militant civilians would do the same” (Beal 38).
The law is specific about recruiting children under age of 15 but there is the logical reference to children directly participating in defending themselves in times of war situations (Child-soldiers.org 2015). Interestingly, according to Hughes, children are often less likely to have inhibitions about the outcomes of their actions making them fundamentally more deadly than their adult counterpart who already has formed moral and ethical frameworks of their character (2008). The role of UNICEP in wore torn nations takes active participation with non-government organizations (NGO) in the story of Beah is a direct focus on saving child soldiers and rehabilitating them into productive lives working with their post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Hughes 2008) debilitating both the psychological and emotional health of these children such as Beah. “Esther got me to tell her some of my dreams. She would just listen and sit quietly with me” (Beah 194).
Clearly the effect of the American hip-hop culture creating a “soundtrack for Beah’s life lends to the particular appeal it had for him before he became a soldier and then after where he explains, “I loved the dance, and particularly enjoyed learning the lyrics, because they were poetic and it improved my vocabulary” (Beah 17) and shows the character of this child as a conscientious student prior to the survival and later experiences as a soldier. Later in the rehabilitation camp, Beah found the ability to perform hip-hop a connection of doing so in a peaceful environment lending to his journey of rehabilitation. Beah shares, “I read a monologue from Julius Caesar and performed a short hip-hop play about the redemption of a former child soldier that I had written with Esther’s encouragement” (Beah 203).
During his rehabilitation, the memory of his older brother before the horrors of the rebels became a reality in destroying his life Beah surely recalled the good times as the first occasion they viewed young American rappers via the America workers on their television when Beah was only 8 years old. The overt significance of the adaptation of the dress and performing the hip hop among other villages of young people proved a life-saving point when Beah was accused in one village he was scrounging for food and shelter of being a rebel and his life was on the line. Only because a young boy in the village recognizing him from the hip hop activities he had witnessed was Beah saved from the surety of death. The difference of such music in the life of Beah and music in other wars was like night and day. Music from other wars and the young soldiers listening to it reminded them of home whereas this hip hop music loved so much by Beah was a memory helping in his rehabilitation and as already described an aspect that literally saved his life.
As presented in the introduction of this academic exercise the above successfully provided information about the story of Beah as a story of the psychological and emotional journey of a child knowing the unimaginable horrors of war and how he overcomes these realities making a new life some only dream. The above provides insights into how Beah surely lived a life of loss and redemption moving from being orphaned to fighter and saved by the UN. The perceptions his psychological and emotional scars from his tragic losses so young in his life and his recovery through the works of international NGO along with the other children survivors offer their own testament to the human spirit.
Beah, Ishmael. A Long Way Gone. Sarah Crichton Books. Farrar, Straus and Giroux New York. 2007. Book
Child-soldiers.org. International Standards. 2015. Web
Hughes, Judith A. Child Soldiers: Are US Military Members Prepared to Deal with the Threat? Air and Space Journal. 2008. Web