Food for Thought
Seeing HOTEL RWANDA recently has caused me to do some reading about the Rwandan genocide, giving me an opportunity to consider what such incidents, including the ongoing genocide in Darfour, Sudan, mean in a post-Holocaust world.
I am currently reading Philip Gourevitch's We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families. It is a sort of history of the genocide and the aftermath from the point of view of people subsequently interviewed by Gourevitch, with Gourevitch's commentary included.
Gourevitch notes that, after the Holocaust, the UN signatory nations pledged to stop genocide in the world whenever it happens. But the West not only failed to respond to the genocide in Rwanda, but several nations, including the US, actually obstructed with efforts to do anything. I had known that the US had failed to act in Rwanda, but until reading this book, I never fully realized that the US, seeking to stay out of Rwanda after the failure in Somalia, kept anyone else from calling the genocide "genocide" in order to avoid having to fulfill its obligation under the anti-genocide treaty.
I thought perhaps that Rwanda, like Somalia, was just too chaotic a situation for the US to do anything about. But it turns out that Rwanda is a very small nation, about the size of Vermont, which wasn't under the control of a bunch of warlords like Somalia. General Dallaire, the Canadian commander of UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda, who was ordered not to interfere while the genocide took place, estimated that he could have stabilized the country and ended the genocide with only 5000 troops. The US didn't even have to provide the troops; it only had to allow other countries to do so.
Expressing an insight I have read in many texts dealing with the Holocaust, Gourevitch writes:
The West's post-Holocaust pledge that genocide would never again be
tolerated proved to be hollow, and for all the fine sentiments inspired by the
memory of Auschwitz, the problem remains that denouncing evil is a
far cry from doing good. [emphasis mine]
Many try to claim that Rwanda was just another case of Africans killing Africans. They say the US and the West can't intervene everywhere.
If the Rwandan genocide were just Africans killing Africans, then the Holocaust would be just another case of Europeans killing Europeans. And the same would go for Yugoslavia, where the Clinton administration chose to intervene rather than sit on the sidelines. But there is a difference between the many conflicts and civil wars all over the world and events like the Holocaust, Yugoslavia, and Rwanda. Gourevitch points out that what make genocide different than mass murder is the idea behind genocide: To wipe a category of human beings from the face of the planet. Genocide is a thought crime that is carried out through mass murder. The difference is the intent of the perpetrators.
And that is why Rwanda wasn't just Africans killing Africans. There was a difference between Rwanda and Somalia, and the US State Department knew it. That's why the State Department fought so hard to avoid using the word "genocide:" using that word would have incurred obligations the US was striving to avoid. Knowingly striving to avoid.
The next time you reflexively think of a country, the US or any other, as good, think of what Gourevitch said and think again. Remember, "denouncing evil is a far cry from doing good."
And, more to the point, that denouncing genocide is a far cry from actually doing something to stop it. While we spend billions on a misguided war in Iraq, genocide continues in Darfour.
And yet the US, a self-proclaime force for good in the world, does nothing.
A far cry, indeed.