Sierra Leone, Africa (1993-1997)
Though we take a few quick trips to New York City, A Long Way Gone mainly takes place in Sierra Leone during the years 1993 through 1997. This is right smack in the middle of a huge and brutal civil war that destroyed countless lives, Ishmael's included.
Our author gives us a little bit of background about how the war started. In 1991, the Revolutionary United Front was attempting to overthrow the government. The government fought back and the war went on and on like that for 11 miserable years. But really, politics and the history of Sierra Leone aren't the focus of this story.
Ishmael does tell us about the scenery and landscapes of Sierra Leone. We get some truly beautiful pictures of a country that is not only ravaged by war, but blessed with natural beauty. In fact, because Ishmael lives in such a natural environment in his village, he has a really special connection with nature. He's always looking towards the forest, trees, animals, and the moon for help on his journey. Sometimes he even gets it…when a coconut tree is willing to cooperate.
There are also some interesting contrasts between the more remote areas of Sierra Leone, where Ishmael lives, and the big cities—both Freetown and New York City. When Ishmael and Mohamed first set foot in Freetown, they can hardly believe their eyes:
My neck was hurting just from looking at the tall buildings. There were mini-markets everywhere, selling clothes, food, cassettes, stereos, and many other things. The city was too noisy, as if people were having arguments everywhere simultaneously. We wandered about all the way to the Cotton Tree, the national symbol of Sierra Leone and the landmark of the capital […] "No one will believe us when we tell them this," Alhaji said as we walked away. (16.41)
Ishmael has never experienced big city life like this. He might not know how to work an elevator or what snow is, but he's learned a lot more about fear and survival and the price of revenge than anyone living in those fancy high-rise buildings.
In the end, Ishmael has to flee Sierra Leone to survive. Though it's clear he loves his country and cares for its people, he's just not safe there anymore. The danger of being forced back into the fighting is way too real and Ishmael can't be faced with that choice again. America becomes his new home and the place where he finds a platform to share his story. We're glad he came to stay.
A Long Way Gone vs. Blood DiamondGet Your
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Brianna Selhorst Glenn Ames Contemporary World History 5 December 2007 A Long Way Gone vs. Blood Diamond A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier and the recent 2006 film Blood Diamond both depict how it was living in Sierra Leone, Africa during the Civil War in the ‘90’s. While A Long Way Gone focuses on child soldiers and what they had to live and go through for many years, Blood Diamond focuses mainly on how the country is torn apart by the struggle between government soldiers and rebel forces.
The film portrays many of the atrocities of that war, including the rebels’ amputation of people’s hands to stop them from voting in upcoming elections. Both the movie and the book try to tackle major issues by asking the questions: how did the rebels and the government gain support, what is the price and impact of way on men, women, children and society. The question addressed by Blood Diamond and A Long Way Gone is that of how the rebels and the government gained the support of the people. This brings up the major issue of child soldiers in Africa, as it is an important topic in both the book and the movie.
Blood Diamond and A Long Way Gone both explore this issue, but Blood Diamond shows boys soldiers on the side of the RUF while A Long Way Gone shows them on the side of the national army. Blood Diamond shows how the RUF recruited soldiers, especially young boys. The RUF gained support by force, attacking villages and enslaving the men and boys they captured. The film begins with the capture of Solomon Vandy, a Mende fisherman, by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels. Separated from his family, Solomon is enslaved to work in the diamond fields under the command of Captain Poison.
The RUF use the diamonds to fund their war effort, often trading them directly for arms. Solomon’s son Dia Vandy is later captured by the RUF and forced to fight for them. They brainwash him by blindfolding him and making him kill people he does not know. They also tell him that he will be a hero of the revolution and he will get respect by killing people. His commander tells him that he can get whatever he wants, “guns, cd’s, food,” and he gives him drugs to help control him and make him think he will be “strong, invisible to his enemies. Bullets will bounce off him,” and to make him fearless in battle.
It is with these techniques that the RUF gained support, by forcing people to become their soldiers and workers and killing any that opposed them. While Blood Diamond showed how the RUF gained support, A Long Way Gone showed how the government’s army gained support to fight the RUF. They gained followers by taking in men and boys displaced by the war and looking for a place to live and for safety. In A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah tells how his village was also attacked by the RUF and burnt to the ground, but he and several of his friends were not there at the time and were able to escape.
He made his way to the village of Yele that was said to be occupied by the army and a safe haven from the RUF. He and his friends lived safely for a time, but the army suffered many loses from the rebels. The army explained that “in the forest there are men waiting to destroy all of our lives. Some of you are here because they killed your parents, others because this is a safe place to be. Well it is not that safe anymore. ” They said that they needed strong men and boys to keep the village safe, and if they did not want to fight, they would get no food and not be allowed to stay in the village.
Everyone knew leaving the village meant death at the hands of the rebels, so there was very little choice for Beah and his friends and they joined the army. The army inspired and motivated their young soldiers by reminding them that it was “their time to revenge the deaths of their families and to make sure more children did not lose their families,” and that that they were performing “the highest service they could perform for their country. ” They also provided the boy soldiers with drugs like cocaine, brown brown (which was a mixture of cocaine and gun powder), and marijuana to control them and make them fearless in battle.
Also, over time, the army did not have enough soldiers, so they began to attack villages for supplies to force men and boys to “fight for their country. ” Blood Diamond and A Long Way Gone both effectively showed how the rebels and the government gained support, and spread awareness of the issue of children soldiers in Africa. They painted a detailed picture of the horrible events that young men had to witness and participate in, and the struggles they faced during and after the civil war. The next question that both Blood Diamond and A Long Way Gone addresses is the price and impact of war on men, women, children, and society.
I feel that both the movie and the book show similar aspects on how people and society are affected because of the war. Many young boys lost all of their family in the chaos of the shootings and had to fend for themselves for the remaining years of the war. Becoming child soldiers on both the government side and the rebels side made many of the boys very disturbed. A Long Way Gone describes horrific images abound; such as bullets sticking out of the back of a baby or 12 year old boys marching to the front, dragging their guns by the muzzle as they’re too small to carry them.
What is worse is the sense that such horror becomes normalised by its commonality. During his time in the government army, Beah says he killed “too many people to count. ” Which shows how disturbing it would be for a young child having to do such things. In Blood Diamond, Dia Vandy is captured by the rebels to fight for them. He is taught to fight aimlessly, shooting everything in his path. The rebels brainwashed him. When his father Solomon comes to his rescue, Dia at first acts like he doesn’t know who he is, he tells him to go away, he doesn’t want to be near him.
Finally Solomon convinces his son to leave the rebels and run away with him. As for how the war impacted women and young girls, they were either shot and killed as they tried to get away or they were brought to a safe place working in the kitchen cooking food for the men. Blood Diamond and A Long Way Gone are both effective tools to tell the world about Sierra Leone and the issues in Africa. Both were able to educate the public about the start of the civil war through the exploitation of diamonds and the corruption of the government, as well as show everyone the awfulness of children soldiers.
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This book and movie, as well as several others and the work of dedicated people, have been able to tell the stories of Africa, spread awareness, and gain support to make a difference. Even though Blood diamond explains that for now Sierra Leone is at peace, there is still work to do. It urges consumers to insist that the diamonds they purchase are conflict free and reminds everyone that there are still 200,000 children soldiers in Africa. Overall, both are excellent at conveying their message and hopefully have helped make a difference in Africa.
Author: Brandon Johnson
A Long Way Gone vs. Blood Diamond
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