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In the paper “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” the author discusses Sierra Leone, which suffered tremendously during Stevens' rule due to mismanagement of its resources. Agriculture was largely neglected due to lack of government support…
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A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
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A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
Introduction
Sierra Leone is a country in West Africa and has a population of about 6.4 million. It has great mineral resources such as gold, bauxite, titanium and more importantly, diamond. Its population is composed of some sixteen different ethnic groups with each its own dialect and this has been one of the reasons for its long civil war between 1991 and 2002. Majority of the people (70%) live below the poverty line despite its vast wealth as there is uneven distribution of its wealth. Once a British colony, it gained its independence back in 1961 with Sir Milton Margai as the first prime minister and was succeeded by his own brother Albert Margai when he (Milton) unexpectedly died three years later. Albert himself lost by landslide during a next electoral exercise to Mr. Siaka Stevens. At any rate, during its early years as an independent country, majority of its politicians were notoriously corrupt and only enrich themselves at the expense of the people. Widespread corruption in the government and the mutual distrust of all the tribes against each other were the primary causes of the particularly brutal civil war.
Discussion
Sierra Leone suffered tremendously during Stevens' rule due to mismanagement of its resources. He also practiced cronyism by putting only trusted people from his own tribe to important government positions. Agriculture was largely neglected due to lack of government support and farmers could hardly make a living on their cash crops. Its diamond industry was also a losing proposition to many and majority of the people continued to live in poverty with its government employees sometimes not paid for weeks and even months. The seeds of these discontent provided the fertile breeding ground for many insurgent groups such as the RUF. It was just simply a matter of time before a coup can succeed and there were many planned that were not necessarily violent but merely to replace the corrupt government in power.
The Revolutionary United Front (or RUF) forced Stevens to leave office but this was only after he had ravaged the country's economy. Gen. Momoh who succeeded Stevens made a few promises but largely unkept such as a redistribution of the country's wealth. He was also widely seen as a puppet of Stevens who was believed to still control the government. Chaotic conditions in the country made it inevitable that the country will soon plunge into a civil war as people had gotten more desperate. Civil society and political governance soon disintegrated with the RUF stepping into the breach and plunged the country into a vicious civil war. Many experts are aghast at the brutality shown by both sides but many concluded the war was really a fight for the country's diamonds (MacAndrew & Goode 31), with government troops used to displace or drive the people away from rich mining areas by using terror while the insurgents coveted the same areas to get their hands on the diamonds and exchange them for firearms.
It was into this violent environment that Ishmael Beah was thrown in when he was a boy soldier forced into service by government troops when he was captured when these troops entered his village and massacred everyone except those they can conscript into service. The young boys were drugged using cocaine so they will become addicted and will not run away or desert the army and more likely to follow orders. His book is a haunting recollection of the horrors of war seen from the eyes of a boy soldier; he was merely 12 years old when abducted and soldiered for six years until he was eighteen (Helgesson 3). By then, he already learned to kill and also fighting both drug addiction and post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).
The psychological trauma suffered by boy soldiers will forever be indelible in their minds even if they grow into adulthood; most of them will live with wounds that never healed (Schwab 181) for being turned into commodities as forced conscripts. Ishmael Beah himself had extreme difficulty recounting his experiences when writing the memoirs (Beah 5).
Indoctrination in the military services usually consist of a rigid form of training such as psychological preparation for the horrors of war and sparing the innocents and civilians. In the case of Ishmael Beah, there was no such proper training and the indoctrination of the boy soldiers including him was done through fear and punishment if they fail to obey the orders. It is traumatic as it is beyond the normal transition of childhood to adulthood as rites of passage. Their forced cocaine addiction is a bastard form of socialization through indoctrination in the wrong notions of warfare. Many families of the boy soldiers refused to accept them back due to their being seen as perpetrators of war crimes and extreme brutality. Their re-socialization process becomes doubly difficult in terms of rescue and rehabilitation (Kyulanova 28) and it is not suprising most of them end up as pariahs or outcasts in their native land.
Conclusion
Any war is traumatic to all its combatants and to the civilians caught in the crossfire. However, a war fought among brothers (civil wars) are doubly traumatic as the enemy is often seen as someone whom one should not have fought with in the first place. For boy soldiers, it is a particularly jarring experience who lost their innocence and suffer a truncated childhood. War trauma is not only suffered individually but also by entire communities. In other words, a traumatic experience such as civil war can also be a collective nightmare.
A civil war is not only traumatic but in a positive but perverse sense, also cathartic. It cleanses society of its demons and shows to all and sundry the utter futility of wars, as there are no victors in it but only the vanquished. This is a field of study for sociologists as the new phenomenon of child soldiers as war crimes perpetrators is something that is hard to accept. A lot of former boy soldiers suffer identity troubles from guilt and shame. They further suffer the pain of war memories and the constant effort of forgetting, leading to dysfunctional lives.
Works Cited
Beah, Ishmael. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. Fifth Avenue, NY: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2008. Print.
Helgesson, Stefan. Exit: Endings and New Beginnings in Literature and Life. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Rodopi B. V., 2011. Print.
Kyulanova, Irina. “From Soldiers to Children: Undoing the Rite of Passage in Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone and Bernard Ashley's Little Soldier.” Studies in the Novel, 42.1-1 (2010): 28-47. Print.
MacAndrew, Richard and James Goode. Blood Diamonds. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Print.
Schwab, Gabriele. Haunting Legacies: Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma. New York, NY, USA: Columbia University Press, 2010. Print. Read More
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