Boy Soldier at the Age of 12

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Boy Soldier at The Age Of 12.
What is it about African wars that is so disturbing? Why do they unsettle us so? We in the civilized West know all about bestial and mindless cruelty, as the events of 1939-45 graphically prove. And yet as we read about Darfur and Mogadishu today and recall Rwanda and Sierra Leone not long ago, or Biafra and Congo further back, we realize that these vicious, bitter African conflicts have left their trace on contemporary history, and on contemporary consciousness, in ways somehow different from the usual squalid reckoning that modern warfare encourages. The great benefit of Ishmael Beah’s memoir, “A Long Way Gone,” is that it may help us arrive at an understanding of this situation. Beah’s autobiography is almost unique, as far as I can determine, perhaps the first time that a child soldier has been able to give literary voice to one of the most distressing phenomena of the late 20th century: the rise of the pubescent warrior-killer. Beah was 12 years old when the civil war in Sierra Leone entered his life, in 1993. Sierra Leone, a former British colony in West Africa. A 12-year-old is conscious only of immediate circumstances and in Beah’s case the arrival of the rebels in his small town meant sudden separation from his parents and months of indeterminate flight from danger with a handful of other boys. These terrified youngsters wandered aimlessly along jungle tracks, starving and desperate, harassed and suspected as they scrounged for food and tried to make sense of what was going on. Finally they reached the Atlantic Ocean, but, once again, fearful villagers sent them packing, and they were eventually recruited into the Sierra Leone Army as boy soldiers. Given rudimentary training, an AK-47 and as many drugs as he could consume, Beah seems then to have gone on a two-year mind-bending killing spree, until he was rescued by some Unicef fieldworkers and sent to a rehabilitation center. There, with counseling, care and attention,...
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