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A Long Way Gone: Chapters 13-14 October 18, 2007

Posted by Ashleigh in A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael B.
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1. heatherelle - October 18, 2007

Chapter 13 was a gruesome chapter, yet it starts off reminding us that boys will be boys, regardless of what continent they live on. Give them a ball and a soccer game begins; send them swimming and an impromptu round of roughhousing in the water will start. There is bitter irony in the transition, when the corporal calls out “Let’s go, soldiers, the holiday is over,” and the boys stop their playing and follow him, yet they are still joking and having fun, as if it is all still just a big game. Even the way they are tripping and pushing each other into the pushes – it’s so childlike. I felt this heaviness in my gut when they are commanded to pack up ammunition, and beginning with the older boys, they realize this is the real deal. Did we ever learn how old Sheku and Josiah are? I guess I picture them as 9 or 10 year-olds. The description of Josiah’s death was agonizing to read. To imagine him crying out for his mother was heartbreaking.

Why doesn’t it surprise me that the soldiers are using “Rambo” and the like to fuel the blood thirst in their new recruits? What’s interesting is that they are still boys playing games, but instead of imitating hip-hop moves, they are memorizing Rambo techniques. Instead of a game of ambush in the river, they are having a killing exhibition. But fueled by the drugs and the propaganda, you don’t get the sense that they are in touch with reality outside of their war games. At one point Beah even says that nothing is happening inside his head, it is just void, and that killing had become as “easy as drinking water” :

“I stood there holding my gun and felt special because I was part of something that took me seriously and I was not running from anyone anymore. I had my gun now, and as the corporal always said, ‘This gun is your source of power in these times. It will protect you and provide you all you need, if you know how to use it well.’ I cannot remember what prompted the lieutenant to make this speech. A lot of things were done with no reason or explanation. Sometimes we were asked to leave for war in the middle of a movie. We would come back hours later after killing many people and continue the movie as if we had just returned from intermission. We were always either at the front lines, watching a war movie, or doing drugs. There was no time to be alone or to think. When we conversed with each other, we talked only about the war movies and how impressed we were with the way either the lieutenant, the corporal, or one of us had killed someone. It was as if nothing else existed outside our reality.”

2. Ashleigh - October 19, 2007

Heather, great points from these two chapters. I found them really difficult to read.

It was interesting how when Ishmael was first taken out to fight, he says, “I have never been so afraid to go anywhere in my life as I was that day. Even the scuttle of a lizard frightened my entire being. A slight breeze blew and it went through my brain with a sharp swoop that made me grit my teeth in pain. Tears had begun to form in my eyes, but I struggled to hide them and gripped my gun for comfort.”

But, after Josiah died everything changed. He was able to shoot. He writes, “I raised my gun and pulled the trigger, and I killed a man. Suddenly, as if someone was shooting them inside my brain, all the massacres I had seen since the day I was touched by war began flashing in my head. Every time I stopped shooting to change magazine and saw my two young lifeless friends, I angrily pointed my gun into the swamp and killed people.” I wonder if all the messages the leaders have been teaching them about revenge suddenly sunk in or if it was a way of survival. Or both.

I think the influence the Rambo and war movies had on the boys is a great example of the impact media really can have. In our country, so many want to say “It’s just entertainment.” But for these boys, who were stuck in the middle of war, it was inspiration and an example. In a way if glorified what they were doing.

3. Michelle - October 23, 2007

Great thoughts Heather and Ashleigh.

I found it interesting that Ishmael was more afraid to go out to his first fight, protected with a loaded weapon, than he was trekking through the bush alone, unarmed, and being chased by the rebels. Does this mean he was more afraid to kill than to be killed?

Cocaine mixed with gun powder?! Dear God!

pg 122 “I shot as many as I could, but I didn’t feel better.” I think that speaks to revenge and it’s false satisfaction.

pg 123 “… we have the most capable soldiers, who will do anything to defend this country. We are not like the rebels, those riffraffs who kill people for no reason. We kill them for the good and betterment of this country.” Who even knows what is for the betterment of the country? I don’t recall any explanation of what each side was standing for. I’m sure the rebels think they are fighting for the betterment as well. It’s all such propaganda. Such lies.


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