Shake Hands with The Devil

The first book to be added to our bookshelf is......

08shakehandsShake Hands with the Devil” by Roméo Dallaire (published in 2003). I chose this book as it is a well-known book amongst IDS students, which will provide an opportunity for dialogue! 

Following the guidelines posted in last week’s blog entry (available HERE), here are my thoughts on the book! 

Firstly, I’m Christie McLeod, the Editor-in-Chief at the Undercurrent. I purchased this book at a Salvation Army a week before beginning my IDS degree in 2011. However, it was only last year that I finally read this book!  

This book is written by Roméo Dallaire, who was the Force Commander of UNAMIR, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda. Dallaire arrived in Rwanda in August 1993 to monitor a recently-signed peace agreement between the Rwandese Patriotic Front and the Hutus. However, recognizing the inherent tension in the air, Dallaire sent an infamous telegram to the UN in January 1994, warning them about a possible planned genocide. As you likely know, the UN prohibited Dallaire from taking action, and a genocide began on April 6, 1994, in which 800,000 people were killed in a mere 100 days. This book documents Dallaire’s time in Rwanda before, during and after the genocide. As the back cover aptly states, this book is “an eyewitness account of the failure of humanity to stop the genocide, and the story of General Dallaire’s own struggle to find a measure of peace, reconciliation and hope.” 

This book demonstrated the priorities of the international community, and their lack of interest in a conflict that had no strategic benefits for them. After Rwanda, countries were quick to say, “Never again.” However, no sooner than these words were out of their mouth, a regional war broke out in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where more than five times the amount murdered in Rwanda have been killed. This emergency continues to be largely unnoticed by the international community as well.

This book also demonstrated some of the major shortcomings of the United Nations. For example, Rwanda (against great odds) sat on the Security Council in January 1994. This access provided the Rwandan ambassador with inside information on UNAMIR, allowing him (and the Interahimwe) to be better informed than Dallaire about the Security Council’s plans. Secondly, despite evidence documenting four arms caches and a plan to obliterate the Tutsi population, Dallaire was still prohibited from taking action. To this day, Dallaire insists that he could have stopped the genocide if UNAMIR had received the small increase in troops they requested. Although I do not have a favourite passage in this book, there were many quotes that have stayed with me. One of these quotes was from an American assessment worker, who stated that “it would take the deaths of 85,000 Rwandans to justify the risking of the life of one American soldier” (P.499). This quote demonstrates the double standard on the value of life that is still present in our world today.

Interesting fact: Did you know that in the years and months leading up to the genocide (in which there was a civil war in Rwanda), the Western media reported more on gorillas (the mammals) than guerrillas (the soldiers)? Check out this fascinating comparison of media documentation in this article by Ken Silverstein. 

Lastly, you should read this book if you are a member of the international community (ergo, everybody). It is a devastation that such an atrocity did not teach our world a lesson, as tragic events continue to go unnoticed today. One such example is the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) over the past two years. This article discusses Dallaire’s plea to the international community to take action in the CAR in order to stop another genocide from occurring there. 

Shake Hands with the Devil is not an easy read. It is intense, graphic and full of horror. But it is an important read, and one that I would highly recommend! 

What did you think of this book?

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