In 1991, Sierra Leone’s Civil War began. More than 50,000 people were killed, over a million had not been found. Numerous people had been raped, had their limbs cut off, and more (Human Rights Watch, 1999). Also, “…25 times as many people [had] been killed compared to that in Kosovo when the international community decided to act” (Shah, 2001).
All countries are different. Every country goes through its own personal complications, some worse than others. A majority of people do not know what is going on in other countries. They are ignorant towards the injustices that are happening, especially outside of their country. United States citizens often take advantage of their opportunities and forget that other countries do not have them. Throughout the novel A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah, the author tells his story about his country’s Civil War. He talks about his experiences, feelings, and struggles. He witnessed and experienced a wide-variety of violence and it, not only affected him, but affected his entire country. His love for music was an inspiration and a literal life saver for him; it kept him pushing, gave him hope, and most of all, helped him to drown out his gresome memories of war. The suffering he endoured, was a big push to help him find his calling.
“In the sky there are always answers and explanations for everything: every pain, every suffering, joy, and confusion” (Beah, 166). Ishmael witnessed numerous, excruciating deaths. For example, while Ishmael, his brother, and their friends were walking back to Mogbwemo, they witnessed “…a man run from the driver’s seat to the sidewalk, where he vomited blood. His arm was bleeding. When he stopped vomiting, he began to cry” (Beah, 12). Also, they witnessed “…a woman who carried her baby on her back. Blood was running down her dress and dripping behind her making a trail. Her baby had been shot dead as she ran for her life” (Beah, 13). These unspeakable acts showed how his homeland had became known for the violence its people endoured.
Another personal experience Ishmael had was being tortured and questioned by the people in a majority of the towns he walked through. These towns heard about child soldiers that were coming and mistaken Ishmael and those with him for the soldiers. For instance, Ishmael and six other boys approached the village and the fishermen that lived in the village tied up the boys. Then they stabbed the boys with their weapons until they fell, snatched their shoes off their feet and chased them out the village (Beah, 60). The fishermen chased them out the town because they couldn’t be sure whether or not the boys were child soldiers. There was a rumor being passed throughout the towns that seven soldier boys were coming and the town’s people assumed it was Ishmael and the other six boys. In some cases, people within the town would accept them and try to help because it was clear they were suffering. To demonstrate, after the fishermen took the boys’ shoes, the boy walked through deserted towns for days with no shade. Their feet had skin hanging and clots of blood and sand attached to each piece of hanging skin (Beah, 61). Eventually, the boys approached a hut and decided to rest their feet. The owner of the hut had entered the hut and seen them. He did not say a word, he just left and came back with a basket of grass. He then heated up the grass and put it under the boys’ feet. The steam helped to ease the pain of the boys’ blistered feet (Beah, 61). This nameless man, seen the misery in the boys’ faces and tried to help. This shows that although Ishmael’s homeland had people who didn’t trust the children, there were some who seen through the country’s pain and wanted to help those suffering.
To add, the children in Ishmael’s hometown were recruited as child soldiers. This changed the boys and their mentalities. Being in the war brainwashed the boys to see anyone that was not in their army, “The Enemy.” The corporal kept repeating to the soldiers “Visualize the enemy, the rebels who killed your parents, your family, and those who are responsible for everything that happened to you” (Beah, 112). The leaders of the army were trying to tap into the boys’ inner anger. They wanted the boys to channel their frustrations out on the war so that they wouldn’t feel remorse about the murders they committed. The lieutenant told the children the rebels “[…]have lost everything that makes them human. They do not deserve to live. That is why we must kill every single one of them. Think of it as a great evil. It is the highest service you can perform for your country” (Beah, 108). These children have been trained to kill anyone that is not part of their group. They have lost all sense of remorse, guilt, and mercy. The word trained is often used with animals. To contrast, the kids were trained to behave like animals, they were killing machines that stopped at nothing to destroy the rebels. The leaders made these crucial acts sound like they’d avenge the deaths of their families. This showed that Ishmael’s hometown was filled with children soldiers, who were brainwashed by the army to hurt innocent, civilians and see everyone outside of the army as “The Enemy.”
Ishmael also experienced the splitting of his family in the first chapter of the novel. He and his brother had left to go to Mattru Jong and while they were gone, their hometown was attacked by the soldiers. They didn’t know what happened to their parents or littler brother. While walking back to Mattru Jong, the soldiers captured them. They questioned the boys on why they left the town and told them to line up. The soldier stated, “We want strong recruits, not weak ones[…]We are going to initiate all of you by killing these people in front of you” (Beah, 34). Ishmael managed to get away when the army was shooting at the rebels. After this event, he never seen his brother, Junior, again. In this case, the Sierra Leone Civil War split up many homes. It left numerous kids wondering, putting either their life and liberty in danger. Then, in chapter 11, Ishmael and the other boys were told that their families were looking for them at a nearby village. As the boys approached the village, the rebels attacked. This scene of the book destroyed all hope that Ishmael had left of seeing his family.
Ishmael’s personal history showed me that after the war began, there was a big shift in the country socially and emotionally. Socially, most of the villages were no longer a community. The people of the country broke apart and no longer trusted each other. There were a few who still tried to help those in need, but the majority would either watch them struggle or torture them more. They thought of it “kill or be killed.” Ishmael’s history, in particular, showed me that the violence made the villages turn against the children. The villages thought that all the children that weren’t from their village, were child soldiers. The country shifted emotionally because the country was scarred. The people constantly went through damaging emotions, such as: fear, anger, depression, grief, and many more.
Throughout Ishmael’s life as a youth, he had a plethora of encounters with violence. Ishmael’s many violent experiences taught me that there are major consequences of violence. This opened my eyes to the disgraceful events occurring around the world. It taught me that violence can leave a mark, not only on these societies, but also on the country as a whole. The country had been shook from the despicable events that had taken place within its country’s borders. The sight of all the dead bodies, the burned down villages, and the amputated limbs. All of this had been stained in the minds of the country’s people forever.Violence leaves a mark that can last for generations. It is hard to get rid of it like a grease stain, it may fade but it will always be in the back of the people’s mind. Not to mention the child soldiers. They had to deal with the guilt of all the murders they committed. They had to go through rehab to learn to get as close to their “right mind” as possible. These many encounters caused, not only Ishmael, but the entire country psychological problems.
The country stopped trusting its people and themselves. Their lives have been changed forever. For example, Ishmael has been on his own for years. He was not used to depending on other people for support or to live. When he was questioning whether or not he should trust Ester, he claimed, “…I didn’t know what to say and also didn’t trust anyone at this point in my life. I had learned to survive and take care of myself. I had done just that for most of my short life, with no one to trust, and frankly, I liked being alone, since it made surviving easier” (Beah, 153). Ishmael’s experience had pushed him into a corner and isolated him from the world around him.
Ishmael experienced a great deal of losses. Including his family, Ishmael seemed to lose everyone who was there for him. In chapter 10, Saidu fell asleep and wouldn’t wake up. The boys decided to carry him to the next village to get help and he woke up at the next village; the boys were relieved. Then, Saidu fainted again, but this time he did not wake up; he had died. This death made Ishmael and the others question who would die next. After burying Saidu, Ishmael said, “We walked fast as if’ trying to say in the daytime, afraid that nightfall would turn over the uncertain pages of our live” (Beah, 88). The death of Saidu opened the boys’ eyes that they were not immune from death and its inevitability.
Another death that Ishmael experienced was the death of Gasemu. Gasemu had shown Ishmael to the village, supposedly, where his family was waiting for him. After the rebels attacked the village, Ishmael turned all his anger on Gasemu and attacked him. Then, all the other boys began fighting. In the middle of everyone fighting, they heard the rebels coming and Gasemu led them to a farm. Before arriving, they found Gasemu had numerous gunshot wounds. When Gasemu died, “His eyes were fixed on something and his legs vibratrated and stopped, his hands did the same, and finally his fingertips, but his eyes remained open…” (Beah, 99). Seeing this death made Ishmael feel guilty for taking his anger out on Gasemu. This death taught Ishmael, that blaming others for what happens does not change the situation.
In chapter 13, Ishmael fought with the military for the first time. During this battle, he committed his first murder and his friend, Josiah died. After seeing Josiah being shot, Ishmael felt like his heart had stopped and the world came to a standstill (Beah, 118). The death of Josiah left Ishmael speechless. He knew that there were deaths in war but didn’t realize it would come to those close to him. That night of Josiah’s death, “[He] had a dream that [he] was picking up Josiah from the tree stump and a gunman stood on top of [him]. He placed his gun on [his] forehead. [He] immediately woke up from [his] dream and began shooting inside the tent…” (Beah, 120). To explain, Ishmael was greatly affected by Josiah’s death. The difference between his death and others was Ishmael watched the entire thing happen. He seen when they shot Josiah and watched him take his last breath. After witnessing this, Ishmael dreamed about that moment but in his dream a gunman tried to kill him. The gunman may have symbolized his suppressed emotions. Ishmael struggled psychologically with the death of his friend, Josiah.
The death that may have hit him the hardest was after the war. Ishmael’s Uncle Tommy had taken him in after he went through rehabilitation. His uncle treated him as if he was his own son. They worked on building things together. When Ishmael and his uncle went for strolls after work, his uncle would ask him how he was and Ishmael would always say “fine.” Then, his uncle would wrap his arm around him and pull him closer (Beah, 190). Ishmael and Uncle Tommy became close. To compare, when Ishmael had arrived at the rehabilitation center, he did not like people to touch him but now he was starting to open back up to his uncle. Uncle Tommy’s kids considered Ishmael their brother and his wife considered him as her son; they all embraced Ishmael as family. He still considered the kids, his cousins and Uncle Tommy’s wife his aunt. The rebels invaded the city and made it dangerous for people to leave their houses. Ishmael’s Uncle Tommy became very sick towards the end of the book. “One evening [Ishmael] was sitting by [his] uncle, wiping his forehead, when he fell off the bed. [Ishmael] caught his long body in [his] arms and held his head on [his] lap[…] he was gone” (Beah, 208). In this scene, Ishmael lost the last person in his immediate family. His uncle’s death was significant in his decision to move to the United States.
Throughout the story, Ishmael could not manage to escape the violence in his country. In the beginning, the book discussed how the people of his country thought the war was made up and not true. This was until, Ishmael’s village was attacked by the rebels. On Ishmael’s journey to find safety, he man into the war numerous times. Every time he ran into the rebels, he lost another piece of himself. Towards the middle of the book, he, himself, joined the army. During this time, he was brainwashed to believe the war was the best way to avenge his family’s deaths. When he was sent to the rehabilitation center, he still could not escape the nightmares, the anxiety, and the wall he had built to keep others away. He had mentioned, It tooks months before he could sleep without medicine, but when he started sleeping on his own, he would wake up about a hour later. Also, his war memories blocked out a majority of his previous memories (Beah, 149). This made a big impact on how he turned out after the war. After rehabilitation, Ishmael thought his war years were finally over until it followed him to the city. At that moment, Ishmael realized he could not escape the war. When the war in the city began Ishmael thought to himself “I couldn’t return to my previous life. I didn’t think I could make it out alive this time” (Beah, 203). He had already been through war, Ishmael wanted all the fighting to be a thing of the past. He was the same person he was not in the war so he didn’t think he would make it out alive this time.
In the novel A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah, Ishmael struggled to escape the civil war that is taking place in his home country, Sierra Leone. The country was being attacked by the rebels. He ended up losing his parents, siblings, and friends. Ishmael became a soldier and released his anger and anxiety from losing his family through killing men in the war. After leaving the war, he went to Benin Home Rehabilitation Center and realized he struggled to deal with the psychological problems he’d gotten from the war. Throughout the war, he blocked out things he did not want to remember, with the help of drugs; eventually they came to the surface. He moved in with his Uncle Tommy and thought that his days of war were over, until the war came to him. Ishmael was tired of the war in his country. He constantly tried to run away from it, but it just continued to follow him. The constant fighting for his life and never truly finding safety took a toll on him. After the death of his uncle, he decided to move to the United States. Ishmael’s history showed how the country was struggling emotionally and socially. These struggles left a mark on the country forever.
- “Sierra Leone.” – Global Issues, 23 July. 2001, www.globalissues.org/article/88/sierra-leone
- Shah, “The Armed Conflict in Sierra Leone.” Human Rights Watch, 11 Apr. 2012, www.globalissues.org/article/88/sierra-leone