The Foreign Service Journal, March 2024

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2024 79 Scholars in African affairs will appreciate Sommers’ work and his use of others’ research in discussing academic and diplomatic controversies. a “big man” patron concept propagated both by locals and colonizers put power into the hands of an older cohort of men, allowed for local and regional high-level figures to form and control warring factions, and left scant room for children to develop independence or have an adolescence. Instead, girls became women only when they married. Boys could not achieve manhood without the support of a patron to make a living or marry. Would-be mentors withheld that support to enrich themselves. Males in their 40s could be “youth,” while pre-teen girls were “women” if they had a child. Rebellion by youth against this “big man” concept, yet simultaneously serving older men as soldiers, is one of many contradictions in the civil war of Sierra Leone. Another is how men denied women education and subjected them to gross sexual violence because they thought women were powerful and must be dominated lest they take over. Sommers traces the effects of slavery, colonialism, and the devastating influence of Liberia’s Charles Taylor and Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, Sierra Leone’s leaders, and diamond traders. All share blame for the chaos, including the recruitment of boys as young as 3 years old to armed groups. Often forcibly drugged and past victims of violence themselves, the new recruits became as ruthless as the ones who massacred their families. Of the atrocities committed during the war, the abuse of women stands out for its cruelty and its continuation after the war. In a 2013 research trip, Sommers found most prostitutes were girls under age 18; society did not see women as useful unless they were married; female genital mutilation occurred at ages even younger than before the war; and efforts at securing human rights for women or educating them were seen as disruptive to society. Also of concern is the way people dealt with their trauma—by not talking about it. Trauma cannot be forgotten. If not worked through, it can manifest in destructive ways. Scholars in African affairs will appreciate Sommers’ work and his use of others’ research in discussing academic and diplomatic controversies. People with less knowledge about the continent may find some of the acronyms, names, and connections confusing, but Sommers reiterates and explains the varied strands of information, so readers need not be experts to understand the events and his conclusions. Themes include the destructiveness of corruption, youths’ desire for growth, and the need for local leaders and international experts to rethink development aid if operating procedures exacerbate inequities. BOOKS How Pop Inspired War We the Young Fighters: Pop Culture, Terror, and War in Sierra Leone Marc Sommers, University of Georgia Press, 2023, $32.95/paperback, e-book available, 488 pages. Reviewed by Robin Holzhauer The children on the cover of We the Young Fighters do not look particularly vicious, but they were. These youth—and the thousands they represent—maimed, raped, and killed thousands of people during Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war that began in 1991. Additional cognitive dissonance occurs when author Marc Sommers reveals that pop culture figures inspired the violence, including musician Bob Marley, rapper Tupac Shakur, and actor Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo character. The seed for this book sprouted more than 20 years ago when Sommers interviewed refugees in Gambia. They spoke of Operation No Living Thing, a countrywide attack that ended on Jan. 6, 1999, in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, where rebels, including teens, murdered infants and old men, burned people alive, gangraped women, and tortured hospital patients. The refugees strongly recalled the aggressors’ drug use and what many wore—Tupac shirts and Rambo-style bandanas. Thus began Sommers’ quest to learn more about how and why pop culture stars played an oversize role in inspiring children to kill. He learned people looked to Marley for inspiration, Tupac for friendship, and Rambo for instruction. More than a treatise on pop culture, We the Young Fighters shows how Sierra Leone society, values, and history led to the war. Most significantly, it shows how