Tuesday, 9 September 2008

"Shake Hands With the Devil"

I am currently reading Romeo Dallaire's auto-biographical account of his service in Rwanda and the genocide of the Tutsi people. I have held back posting much about this book, as I felt I would inadequately express my thoughts and feelings. It is a large subject (over 500 pages in the book) and Dallaire's writings are very intimate. I strongly recommend reading it, as it provides an excellently written account of humanity at its best and worst.

I often wondered how men and women find the courage to risk their lives for people living in countries far from their own, for causes that would barely effect their personal day to day living. Fighting a World War, or defending your own country I can understand (if one can ever truly understand the need to kill other human beings), but I was at a loss when it came to these far away missions we are fighting in remote parts of the world.

Today I read the following passage, more than half way through the book, and suddenly I received a clarity on this subject. I felt an instant kinship with humanity, understanding for the first time how we really are all brothers and sisters in this world. My heart ached for the horrors that innocent people endure, and I found awakening deep within me the ability to lay down my own life in defense of another. I discovered a strong urge to assist in such humanitarian and medical missions. Suddenly I did not fear the loss of my own life in serving such a cause.

"The RPF had fired three to four artillery rounds into the hospital compound. Fumes and smoke still hung over the site, filtering the brightness of the sun and turning everything into a dreamlike image of atrocity...Inside the nearby walled compound stood the pharmacy and dispensary. It had a wired service counter in a doorway; people would line up along the front wall waiting for their prescriptions to be filled. The yellow-painted, one-story building was still standing although all the windows were smashed. After a closer look I was aghast. On the wall there were outlines of people, of women, of children, made of blood and earth. It was like a scene out of Hiroshima. There had been over forty people standing against the wall, caught between the shell blasts and the solid building. A medical person said that some people just exploded into the air. None survived.

I could not absorb the carnage. As an artillery officer, I had seen the effects of explosions on all sorts of targets, but never could I have imagined the impact of such hits on human beings. The age of abstract "exercises" was over for me. Hundreds of people of all ages were crying and screaming, and staff ran every which way trying to attend to all the wounded. With tears and crazed gestures, the minister of social welfare screamed at me that UNAMIR
(a division of the United Nations) and I were accomplices to this savagery and that he hoped I would never be able to erase this scene from my mind."

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