I really need to inject some levity into the reading mix, because these brutally depressing books are overwhelming me. I mean, I'm glad I read this, but...wow.
Historical background, the Jenny version, in one paragraph: In the late 1800s, European countries colonized Africa and spent the next 80 or so years royally fucking the place up. After decolonization in the late 50s and 60s, they left behind a raft of problems, propped up puppet dictators, and took off with a huge amount of the continent's wealth in their pockets. In Rwanda, a teeny tiny little country, colonizers had stirred up ethnic hatred between 2 groups, the Hutus and the Tutsi. By the mid-1990s, this long-standing conflict reached a rolling boil and the majority Hutus formed a party, Hutu Power, who decided to completely remove the Tutsis from the face of the Earth. On April 6th, 1994, the President of Rwanda died in a plane crash, and the Hutus used it as a pretext to attack the Tutsis. Over the next 100 days, the Hutus turned on their lifelong friends, neighbors, and countrymen and slaughtered about 1 million people. The Hutus systematically killed the Tutsis, roughly 100 people per hour, at the urging of the Hutu Power party, and they did it mostly by machete.
The international community did nothing. Less than nothing, actually. The UN field commander at the time said that with 5000 men, he probably could have put a stop to the whole thing. The US, rather than increasing the number of soldiers, instead insisted that UN peacekeepers be removed from Rwanda. The French came in and created a clear zone that they used to HELP the Hutus, and perhaps even provided them with more arms.
Now, I had known the rough outline of the thing. But it was this upcoming part of the story that I knew nothing about that was just as appalling in its own way. After killing a million Tutsis in those few months, the Hutu Power party urged the Hutus to flee from Rwanda. They insisted the entire time that it was self-defense and that the Tutsis were in fact to blame. The party elites told common Hutus that if they didn't flee from Rwanda, they would be killed by a Tutsi-led government that was fighting for control of Rwanda. So millions of Hutu killers fled into neighboring countries, creating a massive humanitarian crisis, living in huge refugee camps....and international aid organizations rushed onto the scene, TO SHELTER, FEED, AND SUPPORT THE PERPETRATORS OF THE GENOCIDE. The remaining Tutsis inside Rwanda, those who lost their families and everything, got nothing. Within a few years, the camps were forcibly emptied and the killers were moved back to Rwanda to live side by side with what remained of their victims.
I mean, really?
I dog eared so many things in this book that I wanted to share and write about, but there were some of the quotes that will stick with me for a long time.
"Genocide, after all, is an exercise in community building. A vigorous totalitarian order requires that people be invested in the leaders' scheme, and while genocide may be the most perverse and ambitious means to this end, it is also the most comprehensive" (95).
These sentences stopped me in my tracks as I was reading. Genocide is community building?! But when you think about it, and the types of civilizations that have carried it out, that does seem to be the common, awful factor. We kill those people because THEY are not like US, and WE are better than THEM, and THEY don't deserve to be here. Genocide apparently isn't too impossible to imagine once you've turned "people into a people"(202). Absolutely chilling. Certainly gives me pause when I hear the angry rhetoric about Muslims or Mexicans or all the people other Americans seem to hate these days. What's the endgame to all that hatred?
"Just as the state's police swear to prevent and punish murder, so the signers of the Genocide Convention swore to police a brave new world order...The authors and signers of the Genocide Convention knew perfectly well that they had not fought WWII to stop the Holocaust but rather...to contain fascist aggression. What made those victorious powers, which dominated the UN then even more than they do now, imagine they would act differently in the future?" (149).
As you know, I teach Anne Frank every year, as so there's Holocaust questions that come up every year. I knew damn well that we didn't fight WW2 stop the Holocaust. But yet everyone feels to confident in singing out, "Never again!" But why were we so confident that we'd step in, when every time before, we turned a blind eye? The politics of the whole situation is crazy. Even this book got some angry press because the author makes what seems like the obvious comparisons to the Holocaust. I actually read an article that wanted to clarify that there were 2 kinds of genocide: ideological and retributive. And I realized something important about myself, I just can't intellectualize this stuff. It is all awful to me, and I don't see any point in playing the Opression Olympics, whereby human tragedies are ranked and compared in order and significance. Rwanda, the Holocaust, American Slavery, the removal of the American Indians, Apartheid. All of it is AWFUL and TERRIBLE and there's no need to compare them, or say one was worse than the others, or that some were not as bad. It was all bad. We're not good people. I get it.
"Never before in modern memory had a people who slaughtered another people, or in whose name the slaughter was carried out, been expected to live with the remainder of the people that was slaughtered, completely intermingled, in the same tiny communities, as one cohesive national society" (302)
Hard to imagine this, right? Just go back and live with the people that destroyed your homes and killed your families.
"After the genocide, [a survivor] said, 'I had to find my own clothes alone, and I had to find my food alone, and now these people return and are given food and humanitarian aid.' It was true; while the international community had spent more than a billion dollars in the camps, devastated Rwanda had gone begging for a few hundred million, and the tens of thousands of survivors, squatting in the ruins, had been systematically ignored" (315).
Obviously, I've got a do-gooder's heart with the Teach For America and everything. But I doubt I'll ever give another penny to an international aid organization again after reading this book. The Hutu Power played the entire international aid community for a bunch of dupes, and we fell for it hook line and sinker.
I don't know what else to say. I might need to subsist on a steady diet of romance novels for a few weeks. And thank God I have the luxury of saying that rather than living through it. I don't mean to sound ungrateful.