I might have to reconsider my previous post about Carl Wilkins.
Wilkins told a group of PSU students last week that “you can’t always know what’s going to happen, but you always have a choice.” Last night, Ishmael Beah, author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, told Penn State students and the larger State College community that he didn’t have a choice. Beah emphasized that when many children in Sierra Leone lost their families in the war, they found refuge at military bases that in turn recruited them to fight: “All of us are capable of losing our humanity, not just people in ‘those places.'”
Yet Beah denies that the children of Sierra Leone are a lost generation, or simply the product of war: “There was a Sierra Leone before the war, during the war, and after the war.” Beah recalls that he only felt lost when he was taken from his troop and sent to rehabilitation with UNICEF, or when he came to America and didn’t know how to order certain foods. He has a strong sense of his identity: “I think of myself as a Sierra Leonean with American tendencies.”
Narratives are a strong part of Beah’s Sierra Leonean identity. Beah closed his address to the crowd at Eisenhower Auditorium with a story from his childhood. He tells of a young man who goes to hunt a monkey, but just as the man aims to fire, the monkey speaks to him. If you shoot me, the monkey says, your mother will die. If you don’t shoot me, your father will die. Beah then told the audience that “There is no right answer, no easy way out. Once you lift the gun, there is a consequence for violence.”
My question: can we choose whether or not to lift the gun?