Freedom From Fear: Songs of a War Boy Book Review

Songs of a War Boy Book Review: Freedom From Fear

In 1983, when I was 10 years old, I was reading GI Joe comic books, watching their cartoons on TV and playing war in the vacant lots and fields around my house.  My favorite character was Snake Eyes.

The year I turned 10, my aunt Marylyn gave me 30 crisp one dollar bills to spend on anything I wanted.  I bought a replica M-16 cap gun that I could use to to play GI Joe with and impress my buddies.

When I try to remember what I was afraid of in 1983, I remember being afraid of screwing up while serving Mass at church, getting hit by the pitcher playing little league, bullies and the faint underlying always present fear of nuclear war.

Actually getting shot was not one of them.

A friend of mine in Australia sent me a couple books to read based on a discussion of people we’d like to meet that we admire.  Of the books he sent is the autobiography of Deng Adut [pronounced Dang Ahh-doot] called “Songs of a War Boy.”

At 6 he is taken from his family in South Sudan and trained as a soldier in the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army.  He is marched for 33 days to Ethiopia along with 30 other kids.

When I was in Catholic School we did a Walk-A-Thon every year to raise money for charity.  We’d walk 10 miles and thought we were going to die.

During Deng’s Walk-A-Thon, boys did die.  They died of starvation and thirst, others were shot by bandits, and others attacked and killed by wild animals.  

These boys were forced to fight in the Second Sudanese Civil War.  They were brainwashed and drugged with amphetamines.  The horrors this kid was exposed to are incomprehensible.  My biggest terror at this age was watching the made for TV version of The Exorcist by myself one night while my parents were at a church meeting which gave me horrible nightmares for about a week.  But it was all in my imagination.

For Deng, the horror was real.

Songs of a War Boy Book ReviewAnd yet somehow he is able to open and close the book with this phrase (don’t worry, not a spoiler)

“I was born lucky.”

What does it take to go through all of what he experienced and still feel lucky?

One of the things I noticed as I read, in addition to the horror, there was always someone extending a hand of compassion along every leg of his journey.  I would imagine this compassion gave him the will, faith and drive to not completely despair, fall into total apathy and quit.

Deng and his brother are accepted in Australia as refugees in 1998.  He was 15.  Deng gets a job at a local service station so he can learn English and make some money.  He goes to school and studies accounting and then decides to go into and practice law. From there he winds up with a Masters of Law in Criminal Prosecutions at the University of Wollongong in 2014 .

He is named New South Wales Australian of the Year for 2017.

During his acceptance speech he says the following…

Around 1993, I watched some boys, only 10 or 11 years old, as they picked up their AK47s, put the gun to their heads, squeezed the trigger with their own fingers and blew out their brains.  In a better world those fingers might have made music in a place such as this hall, built homes, operated the equipment of scientific discovery.  Instead their short lives were as nothing – innocents destroyed. I, consumed by fear, couldn’t pull a trigger myself, because I was too scared. Yes, fear saved me.  But I understand why they did it. For my fellow child soldiers, pulling the trigger was the quickest way to die and for them the thought of dying was better than the reality of living.

I wonder what their spirits would have thought if they saw that I would become a practicing lawyer in Australia some 18 years later. I grieve for them.  For them the freedom from fear was death.  I was lucky.  You are too.  Freedom from fear is about acceptance of our common identity. For we Australians in 2016 freedom from fear is almost taken for granted. We had better take care to keep it.

Songs of a War Boy Book Review

And this is why you need to read his story, Songs of a War Boy.  No one should have to experience this, yet people do.  Kids do.  Fear, unfortunately, in the United States is promoted, sold and mass marketed by the main stream media.  Fear is used as a tool to manipulate us and sell products.  Actual fear has been completely taken for granted in this country.

I spent the entire book trying to get in his shoes but he didn’t even have any most of the time.  I tried to see life though his eyes but I couldn’t come close to fathoming it.  Any of it.  Literally can’t imagine it.  Is angers me at the deepest level.  Literally speechless.

What I can say is that having awareness is the first step to prevention and reform.  We cannot remain ignorant to the many horrors of this world.  As a global community, we need to do what we can to make a real difference.  So much of what the media promotes are past grievances because to confront the current realities staring them in the face is too much to bare.

According to UNICEF, “between 2005 and 2020, more than 93,000 children were verified as recruited and used in violent conflict, although the actual number of cases is believed to be much higher.”

Additionally, there are over 40 million victims of human tracking globally today and 25% are children.

Deng’s story is just one.

One.  One of how many?  It is of one who survived.  How many didn’t?  Awareness is first.  Next is doing.  Look at what you can do in YOUR community to help.  I love the phrase “think global, act local.”

In the United States approximately 30% of gang members are under 18, so don’t think these horrors are limited to some far away place.  This is in your backyard.

See what you can do in and for your community.  Donate time, money and attention to see where you can make a difference for the better and let your community’s example radiate out and influence others.

But first…  read this book!