Wednesday, May 7, 2008


The fire started in the room next to the one in which my coworkers and I were sitting. The large, glass wall made the fire all the more evident. Next thing I knew, a fireball had burned out the building; my coworkers continued to sit in the chairs and sofas, but had turned into burnt skeletons. I was horrified. No, no, no! I shrieked silently. No, not my friends! I rewound the video in my brain, back to before the fire started, but there it was again, the fire, the horror…

I knew I shouldn’t have read A Long Way Gone in bed before turning off the light. Ishmael’s nightmares were becoming my own. The gruesomeness of seeing people killed before your very eyes, the trauma of learning your entire family was slaughtered, and, worst of all, the desensitization that occurred when children were made into soldiers, trained to kill, then given drugs to turn them into ruthless killing machines with no remorse – these were the circumstances of Ishmael’s life. This sensitive child had turned into brutal warrior who delighted in others’ pain.

I’ve read first-hand accounts of war before, but never from the perspective of a drug-addicted teen. I was horrified as I read that almost overnight, Ishmael was transformed from a kind, war-traumatized child into a soldier who delighted in causing destruction and death – all because of the drugs that he’s given, initially right before his first battle, then supplied with regularly. The cocaine, marijuana, and other drugs, plus a steady diet of Rambo and other war movies, obliterated any compassion and love Ishmael had.

Rehabilitating drug-addicted, unremorseful soldiers is no easy feat. To my surprise, these children wanted to return to the front. They wanted their guns and drugs. War had become a normal way of life for them.

As I read the book, I tried to view it from my children’s perspective. Some of the grisly war scenes are hard to read. Even harder is Ishmael’s delight in killing. The book is shocking. How will my children react to it if I assign it to them? But, as I mentioned before, life for many around the world is difficult and so very different from life in suburbia. How else will my children know?

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What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
— Albert Pike, Scottish Rite Freemason (1809-1891)