Archive for June 8th, 2008
Many people wonder why we should worry about what goes on in the third world, given all the problems they have. Some even suggest that we have so many problems here that we should “take care of ourselves” before helping others. I think the best answer to that comes from a quote by Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, whose book Shake Hands with the Devil details his efforts at working to stop the Rwandan genocide as commander of UNAMIR, the UN force in Rwanda during the genocide. When he pleaded for more support to either prevent or later end the slaughter, the UN – driven primarily by American and French concerns – cut UNAMIR to a few hundred people, and essentially let the slaughter continue.
Dallaire came back from that experience a broken man, suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, and drifting into alcoholism and prescription drugs, leading to his near death in 2001 when he was found passed out on a park bench. He felt the guilt of the civilized world for allowing this to happen, even though he was one of those who did everything he could to prevent it. He had watched, helplessly, as innocent people were massacred; in the West most people hardly noticed. Governments that knew, found excuses not to get involved. One American official told Dallaire that the Clinton Administration had determined that it would only be worth one American life to save 85,000 Rwandans.
Dallaire managed to recover, writing a book that detailed the genocide, and which I believe should be read by everyone: Shake Hands with the Devil. A documentary with the same name examines his return to Rwanda on the tenth anniversary of the genocide. Writing about his experience was a kind of therapy for Dallaire, who also reflected on what conditions in the third world do to young people growing up there. They produce rage.
His quote is from page 521 of his book:
“But many signs point to the fact that the youth of the Third World will no longer tolerate living in circumstances that give them no hope for the future. From the young boys I met in the demobilization camps in Sierra Leone to the suicide bombers of Palestine and Chechnya, to the young terrorists who fly planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we can no longer afford to ignore them. We have to take concrete steps to remove the causes of their rage, or we have to be prepared to suffer the consequences. The global village is deteriorating at a rapid pace, and in the children of the world the result is rage. It is the rage I saw in the eyes of the teenage Interahamwe militiamen in Rwanda, it is the rage sensed in the hearts of the children in Sierra Leone, it is the rage I felt in crowds of ordinary civilians in Rwanda, and it is the rage that resulted in September 11. Human beings who have no rights, no security, no future, no hope and no means to survive are a desperate group who will do desperate things to take what they believe they need and deserve.”
If we don’t do something to help improve conditions there, it will come back here to haunt us; September 11, 2001 was a stark example of what can happen. We shouldn’t be fooled into thinking its just religious fanatics; what drives all this is deeper. That makes all the more poignant the example of Sally Goodrich, UMF’s commencement speaker this year, and her work. She suffered the consequences of that rage when she lost her son on 9-11, and she is actively trying to work to bring hope to Afghanistan with her education program, doing what Dallaire would say are “concrete steps to remove the causes of their rage.”
If people both against and for the war or American foreign policy would focus a bit less on domestic political theater and more on what we can actually do to deal with these difficult issues, we may be surprised at how much can be accomplished. I doubt we can solve these problems; that work will take generations. But we may be able to avoid feeding the rage if we are active in trying to help create hope.