Drugged-out children, often barely bigger than the weapons they carry, have been a feature of many wars of the 1990s and today – particularly in Africa. Without the judgement, scruples or distractions that adults have, child-soldiers can be easily turned into murderous thugs; and too many warlords and militia leaders have done just that. Moreover, for a sixteen year old who has known nothing but a narcotic haze and brutal violence for three or four years, can there ever be redemption?
Evidently yes, judging by Ishmael Beah’s account of his experiences as a young teenager in Sierra Leone and his recruitments into the ranks of the Revolutionary United Front and what passed for Sierra Leone’s army; and then about his rescue and recovery by UNICEF. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (Douglas&McIntyre, Vancouver, 2007) is a slender book, and understandably short on details about much of what passed for the author’s ‘military’ career between his conscription and rescue; but it is fascinating and moving. Ishmael Beah’s dignity and humanity have been recovered, which makes one wonder about all the other human potential squandered by the squabbling war-lords in Africa.