Rwanda

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Serving in Rwanda during 1993-94 as UN Force Commander, Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire and his small peacekeeping force found themselves abandoned by the world’s major powers in a vortex of civil war and genocide. At a presentation following his return from Rwanda, a Canadian Forces padre asked Dallaire how, after all he had seen and experienced, he could still believe in God. He answered, I know there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil.

I’m currently reading Dallaire’s account entitled Shake Hands with the Devil: The failure of humanity in Rwanda. The following is a journal entry I wrote after spending the better part of a day entrenched in its pages:

 

It happened in a moment. I looked up from my book, and as I did so Rwanda spun away from me. Another world rushed forward slamming into my view, knocking me off balance. A violent image of rape instantaneously replaced by a chatty couple. My mind teetered between Rwanda and Dupont as my eyes tried quick to play catch up. Where was reality? Dallaire:

As I said goodbye to Beth and the bustling city of Nairobi, I was caught in an emotional mental battle that pitted what I now consider the “real” world–genocide in Rwanda–and the “artificial” world–the detachment and obtuseness of the rich and powerful.

But I was holding a book. And still–as I read the genocide, images of Dupont don’t enter the pages, but when I look up at my surroundings Rwanda creeps in. I slid my focus back to the page. Dallaire: “Perhaps it was a symptom of how far gone I was that I was glad to be back.”

Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire is the highest-ranking military officer ever to suffer openly with post-traumatic stress disorder, making him a moral example for citizens of conscience and militaries worldwide.

Katie Orlemanski

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One Response

  1. This is a beautiful post. I think it’s important to consider how we engage with representations (verbal, visual, televised, whatever) of radically, shockingly extreme human realities of suffering, witnessing, and experiencing. I will probably (and thankfully) never be called on to witness large-scale human rights violations first-hand. The choice even to engage with information and representations of extreme human suffering is not an obvious one. I think posts like this are great — not just analysis, but consideration of the fact that reading about genocide IS an experience, a powerful, shocking experience. Many (most?) people (myself included) don’t want this experience and insulate themselves from such accounts. After reading this post, I remember my responsibility as a cultural consumer to seek out media that connects me to global issues of human rights.

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