Summary and Analysis
Ishmael's reality has shifted so much that his squad is now his only family and the forest and villages they capture are his home. His only thought is to kill or be killed. His gun both provides for and protects him. His thoughts and actions have become so simple that days blend into one another, and he maintains no concept of time.
In January of 1996, when Ishmael is 15 years old, his world is again changed. UNICEF men arrive to take the boy soldiers from the war zone. Ishmael and his friends are lined up, and the lieutenant chooses the youngest ones to be released from their duty. He tells them that the UNICEF men will put them in schools and find them new lives. The lieutenant says that they've served their brotherhood and their country well, but he doesn't give them any other explanation for their dismissal.
The boys are taken to a fenced compound in Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital. They are given food and beds with clean linens. They look at the beds as if they don't know what they are and they consume the food in seconds. Other groups of boy soldiers are there, and they begin fighting them until they realize that they, too, are from the army. Later, a group of boy soldiers from the RUF are brought in and a war between the groups breaks out. The MPs and nationals try to break up the fight, but Mambu overtakes them and steals a gun. He begins shooting rebels; six people are killed before more MPs arrive and break up the battle by force.
Ishmael and the remaining boy soldiers are taken to Benin Home, a rehabilitation center, but they still can't understand why. Ishmael's headaches return as his body begins withdrawing from drugs.
Ishmael's loyalty as a soldier is fierce when this chapter opens, which is why his dismissal from service is so painful. He admires the lieutenant and seeks his approval as a father figure. The theme of confusion and fear returns when the boys are taken from their squad. Ishmael's journey out of the war makes him anxious and afraid. He doesn't know why he's being sent away, and he doesn't know where they are going. We would expect him to be relieved to be out of the war zone, but because the war has become his norm, he is angry and confused to be kicked out. The loss of his "new family" is as acute as the loss of his real family.
During the battle with the rebels at the UNICEF camp, Ishmael recalls his lieutenant's instructions to kill any rebel he sees anywhere he encounters them. The brainwashing by the army still has control over him, and he's not able to understand his new freedom. The rebels express a similar brainwashing, blaming the army for killing their families without cause. The rebels, too, claim to fight for the defense of their country to justify their violence. It's ironic that the exact same way of thinking — defense and revenge — has been used to motivate the boys to each fight for their side. The conflict of man vs. man is clear in this chapter, with each side claiming the other to be the enemy.
The MPs are clearly not prepared for the brutal nature of the boy soldiers. It seems to catch them off guard that the boys still have weapons and are capable of such violence. The conflict of man vs. society is revealed as the boy soldiers battle against the culture that is trying to free them from their brainwashing enslavement.