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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Read This Book

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Awhile ago I posted about the stuff I had been reading about Rwanda and Sudan. Well, the reading (and watching and listening) has continued, and I think I've just read the most valuable thing yet: Romeo Dallaire's Shake Hands With The Devil; The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda.

Dallaire was the Force Commander of the UN peacekeeping troops in Rwanda from the summer of 1993 to the summer of 1994. What makes his account of what happened in Rwanda so valuable is that, whereas most accounts of the genocide begin with the actual killing itself, Dallaire spends almost half the book narrating the months leading up to the beginning of the genocide, months spent painstakingly trying to implement a peace agreement and get a Broad-Based Transitional Government off the ground. In that process, the most crucial people were the moderates in the Rwandan government; those were the people who were sought out and systematically executed by the extremists as the genocide's opening salvo.

Dallaire's account places accountability for the genocide first at the feet of the Rwandans themselves who meticulously plotted, organized, and carried out the murder of over 800,000 of their countrymen in 100 days. But he also places a huge chunk of accountability at the feet of the western world, namely France and the United States, nations who had (and have) the wherewithall and the resources to put an end to the killing before it even began, but who could not find it within themselves to risk the political fallout of even 1 casualty from their own military (one U.S. State Department staffer told Dallaire over the phone that it would take 850 Rwandan deaths to warrant the death of one U.S. soldier).

And finally, Dallaire places accountability for the disaster at the feet of the U.N., which is to say, largely, himself. The guilt and responsibility that Dallaire feels at having been unable to orchestrate a peaceful transition in government, to anticipate the actions of the extremists, and then to stop them once they got going--that guilt just leaps off the page. God help him.

Dallaire over and over again adjusted his plans to head off the incumbent catastrophe; he was again and again shot down by his superiors (who include Kofi Anan) at the U.N. He was repeatedly told not to fire unless fired upon, and his mandate as a peacekeeper was repeatedly enforced. Yet the utter lack of resources he was given to even enforce that mandate is shocking. Dallaire sums up the position of the U.N.'s member nations, particularly the members of the Security Council: they all thought something should be done, and they all had excuses as to why they shouldn't be the ones to do it.

Romeo Dallaire, to my mind, is a hero. He is a hero of the type of conciliarism that is so crucial in the world today. A Canadian, a man who never before had set foot in Africa, dropped into the middle of a complicated cultural and political crisis and then left to try and make peace. Ultimately, there was no peace. And Dallaire will be the first to tell you that he is largely to blame for that fact. But the assumptions of "neutrality" and "national interest" that so govern the United Nations and its member states are, I think, more to blame. Because what can a General in the field be expected to do (as he watches bands of militias attack scores of civilians in churches with machetes) when the people in charge of the money and the supplies that he needs are dressed in neatly pressed suits and seated in comfortable chairs in New York, and all they can say is "sorry?"

Here and here are some audio clips of Dallaire being interviewed by NPR.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:10 AM

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