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A Long Way Gone: Chapters 3-4 October 8, 2007

Posted by Michelle in A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael B.


1. Michelle - October 8, 2007

A few random thoughts:

Chapter 3 talks of how much of the village went into hiding for fear of the RUF’s coming to town. Initially they boys didn’t go because Khalilou’s family had asked them to stay behind to help them carry their property. My reaction to that was – what? leave!. Then a bit later he says that though the majority of the town’s population was in hiding they were again left behind, this time not to carry Khalilou’s familiy’s belongings, but to **look after the house and to buy food to take to them while they were in hiding**. ?!?! Does this sound crazy to anyone else? It sounds very self-serving of that family to ask these boys to risk their lives like that. What do you guys think?

“… people started screaming and running in different directions… everyone just ran to save his or her life. Mothers lost their children, whose confused, sad cries coincided with the gunshots.” When I read this I was thinking, grab a kid!, and then wondering if I would have helped a child escape or if I would have tried to save myself. Then I wondered if he dealt with guilt. A few sentences later he writes: “… we ran past people who were stuck in the mud… who couldn’t be helped, for anyone who stopped to do so was risking his own life.”

“Young boys were immediately recruited, and the initials RUF were carved wherever it pleased the rebels, with a hoy bayonet.” Does he get carved I wonder?

I find it curious that people would not sell food. I suppose food & water become more important than currency as the fear of supplies running low at a time like this would be strong. His response: “I wanted to blame someone for this particular predicament, but there was no one to be blamed… It was a typical aspect of being the the war… no one had any control over anything.”
Then “That night we were so hungry that we stole people’s food while they slept. It was the only way to get through the night.” At first I had no thought or reaction to them stealing food – it was what they had to do. Then I wondered, what if they had secured food and someone had stole it from them, what would I have thought/felt? It’s curious how different your response can be depending on who you are rooting for. We are following his story of survival and want him to fare well, but I’m sure the townsfolk who they stole the food from are equally innocent and worth rooting for. What must they have felt when they woke up to find their precious food gone? War makes lines like these very fuzzy, don’t they?

2. heatherelle - October 9, 2007

I think money (currency) becomes worthless in times of civil war. People have more faith in the tangible commodities like food and clothing than in a piece of paper produced by a government that’s being overthrown.

You’re right about our perspective, Michelle. It’s easy to take his side when we’re seeing everything through his eyes.

It’s hard for me to stomach the ruthlessness of this civil war. I don’t know if I’m just coming from such an idealized, American viewpoint, or what. I look at our own Revolution, and though bloody, it seemed like such a noble cause based on important principles. It’s hard to fathom fighting to topple a ruthless government and then going around raiding villages and killing just for the sake of killing. It just seems so senseless and without purpose.

3. catherine - October 10, 2007

I think what you say about the idealized, American viewpoint is probably pretty accurate. In one of the interviews on the book’s website, Beah addresses Americans in particular. He says we seem to have a romanticized view of war – (probably because Americans haven’t experienced it on their own land for a long, long time??) He makes the point that war is absolutely terrible, no matter what you’re fighting for. For those who are in it, there is nothing romantic about it at all.

I think these first few chapters really bring across the chaos – that nothing makes sense: “It was a typical aspect of being in the war. Things changed rapidly in a matter of seconds and no one had any control over anything.”

4. Ashleigh - October 13, 2007

Michelle, I had some of the same thoughts. I couldn’t believe that the family had left them behind to watch over the house. My reaction was: Who cares about the house? Human life is worth so much more. I wish we could’ve seen into the reasoning of this family and the decision. And, why did the boys agree to stay behind.

Also, when it came to stealing the food …

It’s funny, I actually find myself rooting for all the people who are running, not just the boys. My immediate reaction was twofold. One, I felt bad for the people they stole from, wondering what they would now do for food. Two, I realized that these boys were acting out of desperation and didn’t blame them for it. Plus, if one of these groups of people had been kind enough to share some food — even just a little — then the boys wouldn’t have needed to steal.

5. Ashleigh - October 13, 2007

I want to disagree about the idealized viewpoint of war. I don’t think that as a whole Americans romantize war anymore. Not since pictures from Vietnam and movies such as “Saving Private Ryan.” I think it’s more likely that we shelter ourselves from details because we don’t want to know all of the gory, grimy stories, not because we believe war is something that it isn’t.

We live in a culture where movies, news, and books seem determined to show us the blood and the killing and the pain of war. Very much unlike our country during WWII when films coming out of Hollywood were censored by the Office of War Information under the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. Back then, yes, Americans may have viewed war in an idealized way. But I don’t think that still holds true. It’s far more of a cliche if anything.

6. heatherelle - October 15, 2007

You bring up some good points, Ashleigh! I think I should clarify what I meant by having an idealistic viewpoint of war. I was speaking more of our justification of war, particularly the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, and not of what happens during war. I know as a child I memorized the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address and I was inspired by the patriotism and the noble ideals contained in them. And it is that sense of “we are fighting for this higher good” – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; government of the people, by the people, for the people – that seems to justify the atrocities of war. (We see this today, too, when we refer to the War in Iraq as part of the “Global War on Terror,” or as a war to topple the regime of a dictator and the stranglehold of extremist groups and to establish democracy for the Iraqi people – it’s all presented as being part of a noble cause.) When I compare that with the civil war in Sierra Leone which Beah describes, with its massacres and senseless killings of civilians, I don’t see a struggle for noble ideals, but a struggle for power between two equally-corrupt groups. I didn’t mean to imply that Americans think there are no atrocities in war. When Beah says Americans have a romanticized view of war, I don’t think he means we think nothing horrific happens. Maybe desensitized would be a better word choice? His opening page certainly seems to imply this, when his fellow high school student responds “Cool!” to the idea that Beah got to carry a gun and fight. With the combination of media and entertainment, we really are inundated with blood and gore on a daily basis – some of it might be documenting real events, but a lot of it is just gratuitous violence for the sake of entertainment. And because, as Catherine pointed out, we haven’t seen bloodshed on our shores in so many years, it has desensitized us. I can watch the news or a documentary and see pictures of war’s atrocities, but I’m not stepping over bloodied bodies when I leave my house or holding the dead body of a friend in my arms, nor am I running for my life while someone attempts to mow me down with an AK-47. And like Ashleigh pointed out, when I’ve had enough of images of war, I can choose to shelter myself and turn the channel to HGTV or something equally mundane.

7. Ashleigh - October 15, 2007

Heather, thanks for the clarification. I actually understood where you were coming from in your first comment. I was responding to Catherine’s comment about what Beah had to say about American romantizing war, which I just listened to a bit of.

8. catherine - October 17, 2007

Sorry to sound as if I’m attacking the whole American nation, Ashleigh. I didn’t mean it like that. I agree with everything Heather was saying – she said it much better than I.

I would agree with you that probably most Americans wouldn’t idealize the idea of war. But, I don’t know if the romanticizing of war is completely in the past. I’d like to think it’s just a cliché and that we are all educated and informed enough to know better. But I think we, as humans, always need constant reminders of these things, to bring us back to earth and reality. It seems that the kids that Beah went to school with need to hear his message and need a bit of a wakeup call as to the realities of war. I think that’s who he is speaking to (and who I was talking about), not the people who choose not to listen to every horrific story in the news because it becomes overwhelming.

9. Ashleigh - October 18, 2007

Catherine, I think you’re right. We do need constant reminders. Great point!

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