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Literature

A Long Way Gone and Blood Diamond Essay

Blood Diamond, the critically acclaimed blockbuster that dealt with the bloody Civil War over diamonds that took place is Sierra Leone is a work of fiction that centered on Danny Archer–played by Leonardo DiCaprio–a mercenary soldier turned diamond smuggler. By comparison, A Long Way Gone, is a true memoir written by Ishmeal Beah recounting the exact same Civil War. Due to paralleling themes, the extreme element of truth in Blood Diamond, as well as paralleling experiences, both works were equally effective in projecting the theme of Civil Wars in Africa fueled and funded by child soldiers.

The main theme of the movie Blood Diamond is not apparent in the beginning of the movie, though it evolves throughout the course of the story. Starting with a visual and dialogue-based description of diamond smuggler Danny Archer, as well as a seemingly disconnected raiding of an African village by the RUF, the theme is, at first glance, diamonds and how they fuel African wars, helped along by the character of journalist Maddie Bowen. Her interactions with Danny Archer before the Revolutionary United Front took over Sierra Leone’s capital, as well as their interactions afterwards, certainly set the stage as Archer for the source of inside information and Bowen the vessel for which the information will be carried.

Throughout the story, Danny Archer and his African companion, who has hidden a diamond the like of which nobody has ever seen, begin to find many common grounds. His African companion’s son was taken as a child soldier by the RUF, and through the development of their relationship, the aim of the plot clearly evolves from the “pink diamond”, and the trade that goes with it, to fully incorporate the illustration of child soldiers. This is very well illustrated by the end, when Danny gives his precious diamond to Solomon, and makes arrangements for him and his family to be safe–a stark contrast to the Archer seen before. In this way, Solomon was able to rescue his child from the fate of being forced to fight, as well as guaranteeing the safety of his wife and other children.

Ishmeal Beah recounts very similar experiences in his true memoir A Long Way Gone than the fictional movie portrays. The movie showed visually what Beah could only try to make the reader understand when it comes to being inducted as a child soldier in Africa. The movie illustrates many torture tactics to literally reprogram children who are otherwise normal to do their bidding.. There were other specific tactics to make soldiers out of innocent children in the movie that paralleled Ishmael Beah’s experiences. Drugs are very often used to not only attract these soldiers, but to make them slaves to the drugs–thus making them slaves to the people who employ the soldiers themselves. Much of the themes of both pieces revolve around the employment of children as soldiers, and whether it be Solomon’s fictional son in the movie or Beah’s memoir, both are equally as effective in conveying the theme. While it was easy for the reader to feel badly for the conditions Beah constantly had to deal with, placing graphic images to supplement them in Blood Diamond truly make the pieces not only parallel each other, but complement each other as well.

Although Blood Diamond was, in fact, a fictional move based on real events in Sierra Leone, it had a great many aspects that made it just as effective as Ishmael Beah’s true account. It remained true to facts, and by its graphic, but true nature, was very effective in conveying its message regarding the illegal diamond trade, as well as the issue of child soldiers in Africa.

In fact, the movie was probably more effective in conveying the importance of the of the illegal diamond trade than even Mr. Beah’s nonfictional account. Throughout the memoirs of Ishmael Beah, the reader is by nature forced to concentrate on his age in comparison to the horrors he was going through–violence, drugs, and maltreatment. In some ways this detracted from the larger problem of the continued exploitation of resources throughout the entire continent–a situation taken advantage of by wealthy Western capitalists to fund, and ensure the continuity of civil war for cheap diamonds.

In a conversation between Danny Archer and journalist Maddie Bowen, Archer states that right now diamonds are relevant, however, they are far from the larger issue. Diamonds, he explains, happen to be the substance in demand by the West in Sierra Leone at the time, much of the reason for the war. He cited oil, ivory, and gold as commodities other than the current diamond issue that has kept, and will keep Sierra Leone, and all of Africa for that matter, in a constant state of civil war. These civil wars throughout the continent are in the economic interests of the West, and therefore human rights violations seem to be more tolerated–a horrible concept overall.

The character of Danny Archer in particular is extremely multi-faceted. His status as a former mercenary turned diamond smugglers is a clear foil against Solomon, his African companion who was always peaceful, but thrust into the situation in Sierra Leone when his child was captured and employed as a soldier by the RUF.

The story of Ishmael Beah is sure to pull on the heartstrings of anyone with a heart for that matter. It is horrifying to think of what he had to go through at such a young age–as previously stated, in many senses, this unfortunately forced the readers’ attention away from the larger issue of the diamond trade and Sierra Leone. However, this also had a few very big pluses with regard to the micro-conflict of children soldiers. Ishmael was able to elaborate much more on group dynamics within the children than the fictional account of Blood Diamond ever could have. It was much easier for Ishmael Beah to give specific examples based on his actual life experiences of the violence and drug-fuel reality he was living in.

The fact that Ishmael’s story is a memoir, and is always personified as one, means the reader can begin to relate to him virtually from the beginning. Almost anyone who read the book knows a child the age Ishmael was throughout the story, therefore this made the story universally relevant. Anyone could feel the pain Ishmeal described, and it is difficult to imagine loved ones in a similar circumstance. This is how A Long Way Gone was effective as a text in a contemporary media scene dominated by television and movies–words leave much more to the readers’ imagination. There is also a small racial component as well. Reading a book does not necessarily make Ishmeal black, green, purple, or white. The movie gave him an identity as a black man, and unfortunately, this is an issue that cannot be ignored in modern America.

It is true some will watch the news, and as Maddie Bowen put it in the movie, see a short report on the horrible conditions in West Africa, somewhere between “sports and weather” and continue to go about their everyday lives, as if nothing is going on. This is truly the final theme that was not anticipated, but nevertheless had the same effect–and ironically Maddie Bowen was dead-on. These two stories stirred up a certain immediate amount of controversy–yet overall, conditions in West Africa have neither changed nor improved in any large way. Diamonds continue to be smuggled out of Sierra Leone, as well as other West African nations, on a daily basis.

If there is anything that should be taken out of a close analysis at both Blood Diamond and A Long Way Gone, it should certainly be the short memory spans of the international community as a whole. Although both of these works were effective in making the world more aware of the use of child soldiers to fuel the illegal diamond trade in bloody Sierra Leone, in the long term they are both just examples of the international communities’ continued unwillingness to assist war-torn African nations, simply for their own economic benefit. As a result, little is done from a humanitarian standpoint, especially with regards to child soldiers, and their assimilation back into a normal life.