Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

Producer Eva Freeman blogs about interviewing the book’s author:

Ishmael Beah has trouble looking into the camera and I can't bring myself to tell him to look up. I remembered a passage in his book where he describes having difficulty looking people in the eye and I put aside our broadcast demands and forgive him his downcast eyes. Before he arrived, I'd read a chilling passage from his book to my cameraman, describing how as a child soldier in Sierra Leone, recruited by the government army and drugged on amphetamines, cocaine and marijuana, he slit a man's throat in a competition to see how fast it could be done. How could this happen I wondered? How could children -- how could humans do this? (At left, Beah in February.)

"In a weird way," he says, "even though it seems unnatural and it brings you a lot of discomfort to be truly violent, it is also human in a way. To lose one's humanity. I am aware of how that might sound. But equally and more importantly, it is also very human to regain yourself."

Beah has achieved his goal. If ever anyone wondered, whether "they" -- refugees and the bloodthirsty child rebels -- value human life, the answer is, yes, they do. Deeply. Which is why the horror of what they've experienced and done isn't easily shaken off. (At right, a 14-year-old child soldier in Sierra Leone in May 2000.)

"I still vividly remember a mother carrying a baby behind her back and the baby had been shot. But you know, I guess she was running from the war, so she wasn't aware of the blood dripping behind her back."

Beah wrote his book to put a human face on Sierra Leone and her troubles. He advocates rehabilitation for child soldiers and points to himself as evidence that they can be successfully reintegrated into society. While Sierra Leone has found peace, Beah's concern is for the other 300,000 child soldiers around the world who are being manipulated and drugged into killing.

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