Beah’s memoir is an act of witness. He relates gruesome violence so that the reader might understand what his life was like, what the war was like. The hope is also that he might draw enough attention to what happened in Sierra Leone so other atrocities might be stopped before they begin.
When the memoir begins, war is just a rumor to Beah. He doesn’t believe it will ever reach him. Refugees who pass through his village won’t speak of what they’ve seen and do not stay for long. When the violence does reach Beah, his innocence is shattered. That he is a target of violence makes no sense to Beah. The purpose of the violence does not seem to be political. Indeed, the rebels seem to have no purpose other than to be violent. They laugh and joke as they kill. The arbitrary nature of the violence makes it all the more terrifying. Beah only knows if he is caught he will not be spared.
When Beah is conscripted by the army, he comes to understand the condition of those soldiers he once feared. Killing becomes something they bond over out of necessity. As a soldier himself, he becomes attracted to the power he can have over another person’s life, that is, the horror he can inflict. But as attracted as he is to the violence, he is also horrified by it. He has terrible migraines, cannot sleep, and does a fearsome amount of drugs in order to distance himself as much as he can from the present.
That Beah chooses to narrate his time as a child soldier through a series of flashbacks illustrates how people afflicted by war are forever changed by it. The trauma never leaves them. Beah’s occasional narrative forays into the present reflect the permanent influence of his past as a child soldier and as a victim of war on his present. He is still haunted by nightmares and suspects he always will be.
The Horror of War ThemeTracker
The Horror of War Quotes in A Long Way Gone
My high school friends have begun to suspect I haven't told them the full story of my life.
"Why did you leave Sierra Leone?"
"Because there is a war."
"You mean, you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?"
"Yes, all the time."
I smile a little.
"You should tell us about it sometime."
There were all kinds of stories told about the war that made it sound as if it was happening in a faraway and different land.
I was afraid to fall asleep, but staying awake also brought back painful memories.
We were so hungry that it hurt to drink water and we felt cramps in our guts. It was as though something were eating the insides of our stomachs. Our lips became parched and our joints weakened and ached.
We decided to leave the village the next day and go somewhere safe, somewhere far away from where we were. We had no idea where we would go or even how to get to a safe place, but we were determined to find one.
Being in a group of six boys was not to our advantage… People were terrified of boys our age. Some had heard rumors about young boys being forced by rebels to kill their families and burn their villages.
This was one of the consequences of civil war. People stopped trusting each other, and every stranger became an enemy. Even people who knew you became extremely careful about how they related or spoke to you.
I felt as if somebody was after me. Often my shadow would scare me and cause me to run for miles. Everything felt awkwardly brutal. Even the air seemed to want to attack me and break my neck.
When I was very little, my father used to say, “If you are alive, there is hope for a better day and something good to happen. If there is nothing good left in the destiny of a person, he or she will die.”
Our innocence had been replaced by fear and we had become monsters. There was nothing we could do about it. Sometimes we ran after people shouting that we were not what they thought, but this made them more scared.
One of the unsettling things about my journey, mentally, physically, and emotionally, was that I wasn’t sure when or where it was going to end.
Every time people come at us with the intention of killing us, I close my eyes and wait for death. Even though I am still alive, I feel like each time I accept death, part of me dies. Very soon I will complete die and all that will be left is my empty body walking with you.
Even though our journey was difficult, every once in a while we were able to do something that was normal and made us happy for a brief moment.
Under those stars and sky I used to hear stories, but now it seemed as if it was the sky that was telling us a story as its stars fell, violently colliding with each other. The moon hid behind clouds to avoid seeing what was happening.
They have lost everything that makes them human. They do not deserve to live. That is why we must kill every single one of them. Think of it as destroying a great evil. It is the highest service you can perform for your country.
Vizualize the enemy, the rebels who killed your parents, your family, and those who are responsible for everything that has happened to you.
We fought all day in the rain. The forest was wet and the rain washed the blood off the leaves as if cleansing the surface of the forest, but the dead bodies remained under the bushes and the blood that poured out of the bodies stayed on top of the soaked soil, as if the soil had refused to absorb any more blood for that day.
At that time I didn’t think I was lucky, I thought I was brave and knew how to fight. Little did I know that surviving the war that I was in, or any other kind of war, was not a matter of feeling trained or brave.
None of what happened was your fault. You were just a little boy, and anytime you want to tell me anything, I am here to listen.
At the end of these long discussions our faces and eyes glittered with hope and the promise of happiness. It seemed we were transforming our suffering as we talked about ways to solve their causes and let them be known to the world.
I joined the army to avenge the deaths of my family and to survive, but I’ve come to learn that if I am going to take revenge, in that process I will kill another person whose family will want revenge, then revenge and revenge and revenge will never come to an end.