What Makes a Man?

.[box type=”alert” icon=”none”]General Romeo Dallaire and His Bout with the Devil[/box]
[dropcap]R[/dropcap]ecently I watched the documentary Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire. It was based on the book of the same name and gives his account of the Rwandan Genocide. The movie gave a spotty and incomplete account of the atrocities that occurred, so as one who has only vague recollections of news accounts and has never had any real interest in studying the atrocity, I was immediately stirred into doing a bit more reading. I won’t call it research. I just wanted to know a little more about the history. But what struck me most profoundly about the documentary was Dallaire himself.

General Dallaire is a man haunted by failure that would appear to be anyone’s fault but his own. He is a man who took on an impossible mission for which he was ill-prepared, ill-trained, and ill-informed. He was sent to Rwanda in 1993 as head of the United Nation’s peacekeeping mission as the nation attempted to recover from civil war. What he wasn’t told was that almost no one had any desire for him to succeed. It might even be said that he was set up for failure.

[quote float=”right”]He looked into the eyes of the Hutu leaders who swore they would uphold the treaty as they plotted genocide.[/quote] The UN appears to have had little to no interest in the matter and, according to Dallaire, violated its own policy of not including former oppressors in peacekeeping forces by sending Belgian forces as the primary force. Rwanda had been a former Belgian colony and their presence may have been offensive to the Hutu, who had been little more than slaves under the Belgian regime (which had supported Tutsi rule).

Almost immediately there was a conflict between the Belgians and Dallaire. Dallaire had tried to warn the UN that the Rwandan government was planning to instigate an incident that could be used as an excuse to attack and kill some of the Belgian soldiers in the hopes that the Belgians would withdraw from the country. Dalaire wanted to intervene, but was told that intervention would exceed his mandate. The incident occurred and ten Belgian soldiers were killed.

Dallaire could have sent help, but the lack of UN support meant that he would be risking his entire mission. The Belgians considered his actions criminal and withdrew their forces leaving Dallaire with a small, ineffective contingent that was insufficient to keep the peace. This was precisely what the Hutu had wanted. The genocide began in earnest and within 100 days between 500,000 and one million Tutsi were dead.

But it wasn’t just the Belgians. The French were arming the Hutu (they viewed the Tutsi as a threat to their interests in neighboring nations). The Catholic Church also stood by and did nothing, refusing to even speak out against the racial hatred and tensions. Government radio stations continuously broadcast openly racist programs denouncing the Tutsi. The rest of the world was content to just stand by and watch, later claiming ignorance of the situation to excuse their inaction.

[quote float=”left”]And live with it, he has. He suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, depression, and even attempted suicide.[/quote]  General Dallaire made several pleas for help, each and every one of them falling on deaf ears. But none of this deterred the man from his mission. He did everything within his power, and his actions in Rwanda probably saved thousands of lives, but as he put it, it was nothing against what was lost. He rejects the label of “hero,” saying the word just doesn’t fit. Dallaire makes no excuses. He states several times that he must live with the consequences of his decisions. That is a requirement of command.

And live with it, he has. He suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and depression, and even attempted suicide. It’s no wonder. As I listened to him speak about the horror, I could only attempt to fathom what it must have been like to have walked among piles of dead bodies, to have watched men, women, and children being murdered, raped, and mutilated. What he describes is unthinkable, and yet there it is for all to see; the photos of dead bodies on tables, the videotaped executions of men being hacked to death with machetes.

At one point Dallaire describes the “sport” the Hutus made of hacking off a man’s penis and the delight taken in watching him run around screaming in pain. Another time he discusses the sickening smell of dead bodies piled along the road and outside his headquarters, where they had to pour diesel fuel on them to burn them because they couldn’t bury them fast enough.

How he returned to all this after being sent home is beyond me, but return he did.

He was present for the ten year anniversary of the genocide. He spoke to the crowd of the atrocity and of his disgust with the world community at large that failed to act. He called it his own failure despite everything he tried to do. He takes the blame and he takes the responsibility. This is what impressed me. Here is a man considered to be a hero by many who looks at himself as a failure because he couldn’t overcome an entire world’s negligence.

General Dallaire shook hands with the devil; hands he described as cold, but not to the touch. He looked into the eyes of the Hutu leaders who swore they would uphold the treaty as they plotted genocide. He recognized the evil in them and tried to get others to recognize it as well. He did battle with Satan. He survived, but not unscathed. He stuck to his principles, his convictions. He performed his duties. He carried out his responsibilities. In short, he did what a man needs to do to be a man. He stood alone and spit in the face of one of the greatest atrocities of our time.

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