Sierra Leone's Robbed Childhood in A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

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The war deprives kids of childhood, distorts humanity, and brings despair and fear. People living in a peaceful world can never feel the same about the reality and cruelty of wars. This book tells the reader about the actual miserable situation of Sierra Leone during the civil war between 1991 and 2002, through the author’s memories and narratives of his personal experiences.

The Author, Ishmael Beah was born in Sierra Leone in 1980, he witnessed, experienced and participated in the civil war from 1993, saved and cured by UNICEF, and moved to New York in 1998. He finished his high school and college studies in the United States and wrote this memoir in 2007. After reading this book with a heavy heart, I was filled with emotion. This article will first summarize the contents of the book, then review the geographic characteristics of Sierra Leone mentioned in the book, and finally focus on the problem of child soldier as a global issue.

The main story is followed by the journey of Beah showing in. In 1993, Beah, a 12-year-old boy obsessed with hip-hop and rap left home with his brother and friends for a talent show held in Mattru Jong, however, the civil war spread there and forced him to embark on a road of escape. He had been spared from death again and again during the few months of escape, passed through forests and saw the sea. He witnessed the loss of trust between people and witnessed the death of strangers and loved ones, the war made his entire world devastated. After reaching at Yele, Beah reluctantly accepted the training for food and vivosphere, picked up a gun and became a boy soldier later. The government army and the rebel army used children like Beah against each other, controlled them by using drugs and hatred, and made them become ferocious and numb in constant killing and fighting.

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Most of the child soldiers still regarded fighting and killing as a supreme glory even when they were rescued and sent to the rehabilitation center in Freetown. Beah was lucky, time and the care from outside healed his wounds and helped him reintegrate into society, but not everyone was so lucky as Beah, most of those rescued child soldiers went back to the frontline finally because of the lack of accept families and failures of drug rehabilitation. Beah spoke on behalf of children in Sierra Leone at the United Nations and met Laura in America. In the end, Freetown was also devastated by the war, Beah escape to Guinea and went to the United States after that, Laura’s family accepted him and Beah turned over a new leaf there.

A part of the Africa life and some features of Sierra Leone are reflected while representing the mainline of the story. For example, the article mentions that on the way to escape, children passed through many rainforests and saw the Atlantic Ocean, which bear out that Sierra Leone is located on the Atlantic coast of West Africa with high forest coverage and tropical monsoon climate. Cassava exists throughout the text as an important component of African diet. Mining areas are also frequently mentioned, which indicated the economy of this country is mainly dependent on mining. Besides, Beah tried different languages to communicate with people in different villages, that’s because of the multi-ethnic characteristic of this country, including Mende, Temne, Bullom and 15 other tribes scattered in different parts of Sierra Leone. (, 2019)

The publication of this book has aroused widespread concern about the problem of child soldiers around the world. The author showed a cruel, bloody but real part of world to us from the perspective of a child. People living in the peaceful areas are shocked and started to refocus on this humanitarian crisis. In 2007, representatives from 58 countries signed the Free Children from War Conference in Paris, committing to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers (UNICEF, 2019). However, to eliminate the problem of child soldiers in Africa and other conflict areas, only condemning from a moral high ground or shouting politically correct slogan is far from enough, we may need to figure out the root cause of this phenomenon.

Based on the theory from written by Postman (2011), the concept of ‘childhood’ is created by the invention of printing press, which divided adults and children based on the ability of accessing information and knowledge. Before that in the Middle Ages, there’s no concept of ‘childhood’ and no theme of protecting children from adults. If the concept of “protecting children’s rights” is a product of the modern civilization and “childhood” is created with the popularization of education and improvement of medical standards, then the phenomenon of abuse of child soldiers in the book may could be attributed to the lag of education and civilization, which blurs the line between adults and children. Nevertheless, the real world does not always show a direct relationship between child soldier problem and level of civilization.

Problem of child soldiers also exists in developed countries such as the UK and the US. For example, in 2005, the UK sent 15 soldiers under the age of 18 to the Iraqi battlefiel, after signing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 (Treaties, 2019). Therefore, like the title of the book, there’s still a long way to go for solving the problem of child soldiers. It may be easy to condemn child soldier problem from a moral high ground, but it’s not easy to practically promote the gradual improvement of the social system and the self-reflection of each society. That may explain why all children in the book hate the words like “It’s not your fault…” from the staff in the rehabilitation center—it sounds like a politically right but meaningless slogan.

In conclusion, Ishmael Beah successfully demonstrated the miserable situation of Sierra Leone during the civil war between 1991 and 2002, let readers realize the cruelty and terribleness of the war, and attracted attention of the world for the issue of child soldiers. The book,, is well worth reading.

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