A Long Way Gone

Describe some of the tactics used by the military to indoctrinate child soldiers, and their lasting effects on Beah.


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In order to acclimate children to war and mold them into effective killing machines, Lieutenant Jabati and his men employ several different tactics: drugs, pop culture, and several modes of emotional manipulation transform boys into killers. When Beah is about to go on his first raid, he is handed white pills for "energy". These white pills, plusbrown brown and marijuana create a constant haze. Ultimately, there is a disconnect from reality when the addiction takes hold. Without the drugs, as in Benin Home, Beah becomes aggressive and the boys resort to raiding the hospital to quell their hunger. When the drugs begin to wear off, Beah's headaches return - as do images of slaughter.

Violent movies, like the drugs, help to create a surreal, dreamlike atmosphere for the boy soldiers. They would often go on attacks in the middle of films like Rambo orCommando, sometimes acting out techniques seen in the movies on the battlefield, and then pick up where they left off when returning to base. The reality of war bleeds into the fiction of war films, which helps to further disconnect the soldiers from the truth of situation. Beah's almost cinematic nightmares feel like a product of this conditioning and only through rehabilitation is he able to confront and discuss his wartime actions.

When he is being trained, Beah learns to channel his rage and seek vengeance for his family. Though he had spent months suppressing his emotions for the sake of survival, Lieutenant Jabati and his men encourage Beah and the boys to tap into the fear and anguish in order to kill. This gives the boys a personal motivation for each kill; though it is unlikely they are targeting the actual rebels who murdered their families. Jabati also exploits his authority by staging contests where the person who kills a prisoner fastest is the "winner". When Beah wins, there is a sense that Jabati is proud of him. In a way, Jabati becomes a father figure to the boys. When Beah and Alhaji are given up to the UNICEF workers, Beah feels betrayed by Jabati. In creating a power dynamic between them, Beah's trust is shattered. It takes the efforts of nurse Esther and other aid workers to begin rebuilding Beah's trust in adults.