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Ishmael is a testament to survival. He does what he has to do to last another day. At times he steals food and at times he charms (his rap routine) village elders. Ishmael, of course, joins the government forces as a means of survival. There he can at least eat and be protected from the myriad of other things that can kill him. Throughout his struggle much of his success has to do with luck. He is a good child soldier and avoids the bullets around him. Why one child soldier dies while another one lives has more to do with chance than anything else. I'm not sure Ishmael ever does accept that it was not his fault. Even when he makes it out of the UNICEF camp and moves to America, he is haunted. I think, at best, the mantra allows him to sleep at night.