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Growing Up With War

February 13, 2007 1 min read
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New York City, 1998
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.”
“Did you witness some of the fighting?”
“Everyone in the country did.”
“You mean you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?”
“Yes, all the time.”
Cool.”
I smile a little.
“You should tell us about it sometime.”
“Yes, sometime.”

—Ishmael Beah, from A Long Way Gone

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

At the age of 12, Ishmael Beah was separated from his family when rebels in Sierra Leone’s civil war attacked his village and killed his parents; at 13, he’d been captured by the government army, drugged by his superiors into compliance, and taught to fight. Now 26, he recounts in this memoir his three years as a child soldier and gradual rehabilitation through the work of UNICEF. Amnesty International estimates that there are some 300,000 children under the age of 18 currently engaged in armed conflict in more than 30 countries; their stories are seldom told firsthand, however. For Beah, at least, the ordeal ended happily: Brought to the United States in 1998, he completed his last two years of high school at the United Nations International School in New York City, graduated from Oberlin College in 2004, and serves as a member of the advisory committee for the children’s-rights division of Human Rights Watch.

See Also

Stolen Voices: Young People’s War Diaries, From World War I to Iraq

Fourteen juvenile soldiers’ and civilians’ accounts in the tradition of Anne Frank, edited by the author of the 1994 international best-seller Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo.

Army 101: Inside ROTC in a Time of War

A study of the collegiate military-training program, relevant for those contemplating joining or currently enrolled at its junior (high school) level.

Pledging Allegiance: The Politics of Patriotism in America’s Schools

Education leaders, political activists, and classroom practitioners weigh in on civic education when the United States is engaged militarily abroad; contributors include Studs Terkel, Chester E. Finn, Jr., Deborah Meier, and Howard Zinn.

A version of this article appeared in the February 14, 2007 edition of Education Week as Growing Up With War


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