In 1993 the Sierra Leonean civil war has been raging for two years and death is spreading across the nation as the Revolutionary United Front(RUF) wages war against the government of Sierra Leone. In the novel A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier the author Ishmael Beah at the age of twelve is displaced from his home and given a choiceless choice, become a child soldier or die. Ishmael chose to live as a soldier. At this point Ishmael changed from a victim of the war into a participant in it. During his time in the army Ishmael witnessed and committed gruesome acts of violence. How did this violence affect him and what are the consequences and aftereffects of violence?
Over the course of the book violence became second nature to Ishmael. At the start of his journey Ishmael was greatly disturbed by violence and on multiple occasions threw up as a result of seeing a corpse. ”The image of that woman and her baby plagued my mind as we walked back to Mattru Jong. I barely noticed the journey,and when I drank water I didn’t feel any relief even though I knew I was thirsty. I didn’t want to go back to where that woman was from; it was clear in the eyes of the baby that all had been lost.” But by the end of the book Ishmael is completely unaffected by the violent acts he witnesses or commits. “I grabbed the man’s head and slt his throat in one fluid motion. His Adam’s apple made way for the sharp knife, and I turned the bayonet on its zigzag edge as I brought it out.” Ishmael was dehumanized by the army. They trained him to kill and drugged him up so that he would think about what he was doing.”The combination of these drugs gave us a lot of energy and made us fierce. The idea of death didn’t cross my mind at all and killing had become as easy as drinking water.” They also dehumanized the enemy. They told Ishmael that the rebels were all responsible for the death of his family and that he needed to take revenge.
During his time in the war Ishmael developed PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder. PDSD is a brain disorder that is caused by traumatic events.PTSD is especially found in soldiers as a direct result from the violence they witness while on duty. This disorder can have many symptoms including Nightmares,flashbacks,hostility,severe anxiety,and violent outbreaks.Ishmael frequently had nightmare about death and his family.”I would dream that a faceless gunman had tied me up and begun to slit my throat with the zigzag edge of his bayonet. I would feel the pain that the knife inflicted as the man sawed my neck. I’d wake up sweating and throwing punches in the air.”
The violent atrocities committed by both sides of the war gruesome and extremely inhumane.The RUF used amputation to instill fear into the civilian population. Fear is one of the main intended aftereffects of violence. If people fear you they will stay out of your way and you can potentially exploit them so that you can meet your end goal. The RUF would amputate and brand random civilians that they found and have them send messages to villages that are going to be attacked without clarifying when they would attack.The RUF was notorious for amputations. The RUF raped,murdered,and destroyed everything in its path. The RUF burned down villages and everyone living in them. Ishmael’s family was killed during a fire attack on a village.”On other paths of the village were half-burnt remains of those who had fought fiercely to free themselves only to die outside. They lay on the ground in different postures of pain, some reaching for their heads, the white bones in their jaws visible, others curled up like a child in a womb, frozen.” The government army was much better as they would hold competitions between child soldiers,whichever one could execute a prisoner fastest would be promoted.
These are just some of the consequences and aftereffects of violence. Violence changes people and turns them into savages. At the end of the day violence is a part of human history that is terrible and almost universally noticed as negative but I don’t think that anything can be done to truly end it.This book helped reinforce my knowledge on the terrible violence of war and the consequences it has on the individuals that partake in it.
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