Friday, March 20, 2009

Booknote: Shake Hands With The Devil

I read Shake Hands With the Devil, the account of the UNAMIR Peacekeeping Operation in Rwanda by its commanding officer, Roméo Dallaire. The title comes from a line by the general:

"'In Rwanda, I shook hands with the devil, so I know there is a god. I know the devil exists, and therefore I know there is a god.'"

I have to admit that this is not an easy book for me to read. It has a similar effect to reading one of Jonathan Kozol's books. I get angry; I get outraged, and I am deeply moved. Indifference and just plain political inaction are things that have always infuriated me. Dallaire faced so many obstacles, and in spite of them, he did the best he could to save some lives during the Rwandan genocide. But when I read that so many more lives could have been saved had the United Nations superiors and the nations of the world actually gotten off their asses and done something, it simply makes me upset. It's just not right to allow people to die, mostly because they live in some Third World country, said country has no strategic or national interest value to other nations, or its inhabitants do not share their color of skin.

At various times, General Dallaire has said that Rwanda will stay with him forever. I think for readers, this is a book that will stay with them for a long time as well. In a way, it reminded me of the film Schindler's List, where at the end, Schindler cried because, in spite of saving as many as he did, there were so many more he could not save. This is a very similar situation where so many could have been saved, but the evil of some men, and the indifference of many more, allowed a genocide to happen.

And to a small extent, personally, I also tend to identify with people like Dallaire and Kozol, who face obstacles of politics, inefficient or arrogant superiors, and indifferent people who would rather remain complacent and distant than lift a finger to help their brethren be it people being killed by ethnic cleansing or children being abandoned to poor educations. In the education world, I have seen it often enough, and it is not a pretty sight. And yet, we need to read these books. We need to learn. We need to educate ourselves, to have our eyes opened, that we may act as we can. And maybe some day, we can get those arrogant excuses for leadership out of their positions so something can actually be done. General Patton, another favorite historical figure of mine, said at one point, "Lead me. Follow me, or get out of my way." If only those arrogant UN bureaucrats had done their jobs, if only the nations had provided the necessary resources, something could have been done. Instead, we still find ourselves dealing with the consequences of Rwanda and other places where there is such great suffering.

This is definitely a book I highly recommend.

If you wish to learn more, in addition to the book, General, now Senator Dallaire, does have his own website at The Wikipedia article on him does give a decent summary of his life and work, especially what he has done after Rwanda. And here is a small post from the Creative Generalist blog about Dallaire.

"Peux Ce Que Veux. Allons-y!" (Where there is a will, there's a way. Let's go!) --Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire.

No comments: