Boy soldier recounts his chilling, first-hand experience

Ishmael Beah

“I angrily pointed my gun into the swamp and killed more people. I shot everything that moved.”

These are the words of a teenager, who carried around an AK-47 instead of a skateboard, and on more than one occasion, slit the throat of a prisoner in his war-ravaged homeland.

NAU students, faculty and staff will have the opportunity to hear a rare, first-hand account of life as a child soldier as Ishmael Beah, author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, delivers a campus-wide lecture about his chilling experience.

Beah’s lecture will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 2, in Ardrey Auditorium, with an overflow venue scheduled for Adel Mathematics Bulding room 137, for a closed-circuit, live broadcast of the event.

The event is free and open to the public, but those who wish to attend must have tickets. Tickets are currently available to students and will become available to faculty, staff and the public Sept. 24. Tickets can be obtained at NAU’s Central Ticketing Office in the University Union.

Beah will speak about how children have become the soldiers of choice in conflicts throughout the world as they are traumatized, drugged and trained to kill. Taking the audience through his own experience, Beah will explain what war looks like through the eyes of a child soldier in the Sierra Leone Army.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier was chosen for this year’s Summer Reading Program, and each student who attended summer orientation was given a copy.

“Beah’s visit is sure to provoke more in-depth conversations about his experiences and encourage discussion and debate about the relevance of his experiences to our own or other nations’ attitudes toward war, child soldiers, ethnic conflict and the solutions to these problems,” said Anne Scott, coordinator of the reading program and interim director of the Honors Program.

In his book, Beah, now age 26, recounts his gripping story about how he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence at the age of 12. By 13, he had been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts.

Beah was removed from fighting by UNICEF at age 16, and through the help of the staff at his rehabilitation center, he learned how to forgive himself, regain his humanity and finally heal.

“I would encourage anyone who has read the book to attend the lecture, in order to bring Beah’s memoirs of being a child soldier in Sierra Leone to life through the words of the very person who experienced those atrocities,” Scott said.

She encourages audience members to come prepared to ask Beah questions about his experience.

Scott said the presentation also will stimulate discussions about tolerance and intolerance, war, ethnic cleansing, ethnic diversity, drug abuse and the role of other countries in increasing political and social awareness about such issues.

Currently there are an estimated 300,000 child soldiers and 50 conflicts worldwide. Those who attend the lecture will get a glimpse into African politics, wars and culture from Beah’s perspective.