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Over There (in the UK)

August 29, 2001 at 5 PM

Inaction

In the early 1990s, Major General Romeo Dallaire commanded the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda, where genocide would soon occur on a tragic scale. Since Dallaire was from the Canadian army, his own plight and some surrounding circumstances have been well catalogued by the Canadian press, if only too late. I remember also reading an article in the New Yorker not so long ago (not long enough ago, anyhow) which detailed much of what occurred in Rwanda and how the UN and Western powers’ failure to act essentially allowed the genocide to occur.

Now in this month’s The Atlantic, “Bystanders to Genocide” uses new information (recently made available by the U.S. National Security Archive; see also Tongue-Swallowing Plans for Cuba) to reveal just how much evidence the U.S. government chose to ignore when it turned away from Rwanda.

A thorough article to be sure, it recites a touch of the history and background of Rwanda, before moving into the chilling story of how bureaucracy, realpolitik and lack of leadership ensured that nothing would be done to stop or even slow the killing of hundreds of thousands.

Lieutenant General Wesley Clark, who later commanded the NATO air war in Kosovo, was the director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. On learning of the crash [of a plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi], Clark remembers, staff officers asked, “Is it Hutu and Tutsi or Tutu and Hutsi?” He frantically called for insight into the ethnic dimension of events in Rwanda. Unfortunately, Rwanda had never been of more than marginal concern to Washington’s most influential planners.

If you have time, take a gander. Events like those in Rwanda erased my naïve belief that today’s media would never allow a Holocaust-type event to take place. But truth is eventually revealed, and one can always hope that the moral outrage that should follow might change future events. If nothing else, retaining an awareness of our own jarring Western complicity should be considered mandatory for anyone who purports some political awareness.

Comments

The Atlantic (and the earlier New Yorker) article is good, but for a definitive (and horrible, horrible, horrible) look read “We regret to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: Stories from Rwanda” by New Yorker writer Phillip Gourevitch.

M-J | Oct. 1, 2001 — 1 PM

Previously: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Subsequently: Euroluke

August 2001
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