I have just finished reading Lt. General Romeo Dallaire's excellent book, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. This is Mr. Dallaire's tragic and awe-inspiring first-hand account of his experiences inside the Rwandan genocide.
Mr. Dallaire was the leader of the UN peace keeping force in Rwanda during the early 1990s, and although trained as a soldier specializing in Cold War-era peace keeping methods, he admits that he felt unprepared to come face to face with the brutal inhumanity of Rwanda. From his descriptions, Rwanda became a society intent on destroying itself from the inside, one person at a time.
Mr. Dallaire tells his story with an effective, natural voice - sometimes speaking as a professional military tactician, dealing with resource and people security, mobility and planning and deployment amidst a seeming myriad of conflicting requirements from outside parties. In this role, he is like Sisyphus, pushing an enormous rock up an increasingly steep incline, while third parties increase the burden or try to trip him up. The other voice that cries out from behind the professional burdens and dense bureaucratic and political fog is that of a human being who cannot tolerate the suffering, displacement, manipulation and murder of other human beings - the Rwandan people, who suffered originally as exploited subjects of racist, colonial Belgium, and later as subjects of an institutionalized racism and classicism that pitted them against each other.
The conflict was initially seen to be between two Rwandan classes: The Hutus and the Tutsis. The labels had originally been applied by the Belgian colonial government. It was a way to divide and conquer the populace by create divisions that could be exploited to allow a minority (the white colonists, and those labeled as Tutsi) to maintain control over the majority (anyone labelled Hutu).
During Dallaire's tour of duty, there were seen to be two sides battling in Rwanda: vestiges of the Belgian-Tutsi regime which had held power, known as the Rwandan Government Force (RGF), and the Hutu, rebel force known as the Rwandan People's Front (RPF).
Dallaire found himself in the middle of these two belligerent parties, under-funded and under-equipped by the UN (well below the level which he had originally requested). He soon witnessed the lies, brainwashing and desperation which would be key contributors in driving the population to begin killing itself in the streets.
In the end, Dallaire suffered as he bore witness the the slaughter of 800,000 Rwandan people over the course of 100 days, while the international community did it's best to avoid involvement or responsibility.
To me, Romeo Dallaire exemplifies a standard of dedication, discipline, and humanitarian activism to which every peace-keeping soldier should aspire.
Learning about his experiences, and the difficulties inherent in international peace-keeping (as opposed to the "war on terrorism" which has primarily been a war of conquest) has reminded me of how my father and my brother have spoken with pride or a sense of justification about Canada's continuing role in the UN peace keeping efforts. I learned that Canada's Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson originally created the UN peace keeping force, and I learned how the blue berets or blue helmets are closely associated with Canada, and vice-versa.
As a Canadian, I'm very proud of this role (or at least our intention to perform it, even if our resources or government funding don't always allow us to perform as effectively as possible).