Friday, October 29, 2010

Remembering "A Long Way Gone" by Ishmael Beah

In 2007, the news program, CBS Sunday Morning, featured Ishmael Beah who had written a memoir about his life in Sierra Leone during a long period of tribal warfare. The feature inspired me to read Beah’s memoir entitled A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, a book I enjoyed and one that has stirred controversy. Some charge that Beah’s book is not a true, factual account of his actual experiences in Sierra Leone, and I will let the controversy simmer. My purpose in celebrating Beah’s story is to pull from it models of courage.

Beah himself has said on programs such as The Hour that his purpose in writing the book is to counter the romantic illusions that some people, especially young people, have about war. Many men and women, veterans or scholars of war, echo Beah’s purpose in their own works: Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, Lexy Lovell and Max Uys’ documentary The Good Soldier, Caputo’s A Rumor of War, and Hardy’s "The Man He Killed." These books, film, and poem suggest why many veterans have trouble re-adjusting, why suicide and friendly fire statistics are worse than ever before, and why VA post-war services must include re-entry support and therapies of all kinds.

Beah’s achievement, like the outcomes in the works listed above, is being witness to extraordinary courage. For all the horror and tragedy of war, many men return home, stepping into the jobs they left behind, becoming a whole, functioning family member once more. Many men choose not to speak of their war experiences at all. Such stoicism surely proves courage for they choose not to vent or live in their pasts. Instead, they live with their pasts, persevering and placing their loved ones’ needs above their own.

Veterans who cannot return to their lives and leave war behind them reveal another kind of courage found in simple, day-to-day striving. However imperfectly they may strive, regardless of the number of times in each day that they stumble, they prove the desire to persist and discover a different tomorrow. Like a recovering addict, some veterans must take it one minute, one hour, and one day at a time; doing so is certainly a testament to hope and courage.

Beah’s story also proves that with courage comes triumph. In spite of witnessing brutality and atrocity at the age of 12, despite living a life wherein human life had little or no value, Beah stands tall against violence. He wishes to tell bluntly the truths of war in order to advocate for all children in countries ravaged by despots, despair, deprivation, and death. He has the attention of the United Nations, U. S. media, and all those who believe we can change our destinies if we have the will and courage to imagine a different tomorrow.

Beah believes all things are possible, especially that "...children have the resilience to outlive their sufferings, if given a chance." Children are perhaps the most courageous among us. They welcome the world even when the world does not welcome them. They dream that all things are possible. May their dreams inspire adults to act courageously and selflessly as they create a path on which children can walk safely to fulfill their dreams.