The Children Soldiers in Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone

Topics: A Long Way Gone

Child soldiers all over the world are being exploited and forced to fight. The question is: can child soldiers reconcile with their communities? Child soldiers are forced into militias and face inerasable trauma. These young, impressionable kids cannot be thrust back into their old communities as nothing has happened to them. Their lives will never really be the same. Based on the controversy displayed by Ishmael Beah in A Long Way Gone, child soldiers cannot be reintegrated into their communities, because although some may argue that rehab and further schooling or work can help ex-soldiers return to a normal life, the soldiers have acquired drug addictions, neurotic conditions, physical disabilities, and also have a high risk of reenlisting into the army.

Post-traumatic stress disorder and other neurotic illnesses can cause violent outbursts and painful flashbacks in ex-soldiers for the rest of their lives. Sights or sounds can set off an ex-soldier very easily. A child crying can remind a man of his sister being raped or the sound of a bat hitting a ball could trigger a memory of being shot at.

“[The research group] found a whole range of … neurotic conditions like somatization, depression, PTSD…” (Somasundaram 3). These illnesses include symptoms such as chronic anxiety, constant feelings of hopelessness, pain that isn’t there, migraines, and flashbacks or outbursts. Soldiers experience significant injuries and see extreme things, and Beach describes in his book that he once had a bullet in his foot, and hardly flinched when the doctor pulled it out.

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These experiences stay stuck in the soldier’s minds for the rest of their lives- which can be a long time since soldiers can be forcefully recruited as young as 5. “Some [ex-soldiers] find it difficult to let go of aggressive behavior…” (Gale Student Resources 1). The behaviors that soldiers make habits stick with them for a long time after the last time thetheyice someone’s throat or shoot someone dead.

Ex-soldiers, even those who have been through rehab, are highly likely to re-enlist into a militia again. If a soldier escapes or is saved by an organization and then released, and the army finds them, they are forced to rejoin or be murdered. The army is also often the safest place since it offers food, drugs, and protection.”….Displaced families… may encourage children to join the army…” (Somasundaram 2). A war can force families to find refuge, but a safe area doesn’t promise food or protection. Joining the army can provide for a family- especially if all the men enlist, and the women follow to cook or organize. The children who are recruited are young and vulnerable- easy to prey on because they have most likely lost most of their friends and family. “Children are vulnerable to war propaganda…” (Somasundaram 4). No matter how helpful recovery is, the allure of safety, food, drugs, and familiarity is too strong for the vulnerable boys who escape the militia.

The opposing side of this argument may say that rehab and support from the community can help an ex-soldier fully recover. “Families and communities often find it difficult to accept child soldiers [back into their original community]” (Gale Student Resources 1). After the heinous acts committed by soldiers, families can’t accept their children or brothers or cousins back into the home for fear that they will lash out or hurt someone else. Opportunities for jobs or school are limited also- “opportunities for and access to further education… or jobs in the state sector have been… restricted…”

(Somasundaram 2). Although counseling and medication for the mental effects of being a child soldier can help an ex-soldier live a relatively normal life, there are memories and triggers around every corner in their old town or a similar community to the one they were taken from. The road to acceptance back into a community is rough, and access to the things that make one’s life “normal” is limited- even after rehab and treatment, a soldier’s life will never be normal again.

Life during a war is hard-children face many problems such as exposure, drugs, and being forced to murder hundreds of people in the years they are forced to be in the army. These helpless children are brainwashed to hate the enemy and to want merciless revenge. Even though the predicament that child soldiers are in is not their fault, they cannot be reintegrated back into their community, Ishmael Beach has revealed the truth about child soldiers, along with much research about ex-soldiers, and even though rehab and reintegration can help in some cases, it does not completely heal the fact that child soldiers are likely to reenlist, will be prone to outbursts and neurotic conditions, and are often not accepted back into their communities.

Works Cited

  1. Beah, Ishmael. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print, “Child Soldiers” Gale Student Resources in Context (2012) 3 October 2013.
  2. “Helping Child Soldiers Reintegrate” Gale Student Resources in Context (2012) 3 October 2013
  3. Somasundaram, Daya. “Child Soldiers: Understanding the context.’ (Education and Debate)” British Medical Journal May 25, 2002: 1-4.

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The Children Soldiers in Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone. (2022, Aug 10). Retrieved from

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