Genocide Is a Cheese Sandwich

And other lessons from reading Gourevitch

Genocide Is a Cheese Sandwich

Genocide. The word is loaded with portent, carries tremendous emotional weight, and, the way it is bandied about now, has become almost meaningless.

We describe over a thousand poorly investigated homicides of Aboriginal women in Canada, over the course of decades, and often at the hands of their Aboriginal spouses, as "genocide." We call the shooting of African-American suspects by the police in the USA, in the triple digits every year in a country with more than 900,000 cops, a "genocide."

We could call it a cheese sandwich, too. For all the good it does us, as an American military officer tries to explain in Phillip Gourevitch's book. Because people care equally as much about both.

Clearly, we don't understand what "genocide" actually is. Genocide is when a government or other actor intentionally tries to eliminate an identifiable racial or ethnic group in its entirety. It isn't neglect, or biased justice systems, lack of job opportunity, or cultural insensitivity. No, those are other bad things, to be decried, surely to be struggled against by earnest social science graduates, but they are not genocide.

Phillip Gourevitch's excellent We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families is a book about actual genocide. Specifically, the one that occurred in Rwanda in 1994. It's one of the defining documents of the Twentieth Century, and I can't believe it's taken me this long to read it.

Perhaps it's the title. it doesn't exactly promise a laugh riot.

Gourevitch examines the Rwanda genocide, when the Hutu-dominated government encouraged and enabled a mass murder of the Tutsi minority and their Hutu sympathizers, killing 800,000 to 1,000,000 people in two months. The truly terrifying thing about this event? They did it with very basic technology.

The Second World War appears to have left us with the wrong-headed conclusion that high technology is required to commit genocide. But one need not build sophisticated death factories like Auschwitz-Birkenau to eliminate an ethnic group; no, the Hutu Power gang showed us that the dirty deed can be done with nothing more than a radio station, a few crates of grenades, and about a million machetes.

While the odious hate propaganda of Radio des Mille Collines flooded the airwaves, the government and their pals in the Interahamwe militias passed out banana beer and machetes.

Essentially, almost a million people were murdered by advertising. That's how easy people are to program. Think about that for a second.

But Gourevitch's book isn't just about what was done. It's more about what wasn't done. The international community we're being told is so vital to our peace and security, as Donald Trump blows giant Twitter raspberries at it, doesn't come off looking so good here.

America circa 1994? Paralyzed by failure in Somalia, unwilling to lift a solitary finger to help. Shamefully, when a group of impoverished African neighbors volunteered to bleed in order to put a stop to the atrocities, the US government withheld vital military equipment pending payment. So much for "the arsenal of democracy."

France comes off even worse. Not merely inaction, but actively helping their Hutu Power buddies get away with murder, while helpfully volunteering to hold off Paul Kagame's RPF rebels, prolonging the murder. I set down this book convinced that at least two French Presidents should have stood in the dock at the Hague.

But the UN gets to wear the giant goat head of all giant goat heads. I have friends who have worked for the UN, and they do great things. But they do them despite, not because, of the corrupt idiots in New York and Geneva. Gourevitch only reinforces this view for me. General Dallaire, the sad Canadian general commanding UNAMIR, the UN "peacekeeping" force, developed intelligence forecasting the Hutu Power massacre and requested permission to launch a pre-emptive strike. Heavens, no, replied the UN. Instead of striking boldly for peace, they reduced Daillaire's force to a helpless cipher barely capable of defending itself.

Lest one think this decision is evidence of the First World's racist neglect of Africa, let's consider who made it: Kofi Annan. Who later, in true scumbag fashion, turned around and tried to blame Dallaire for the whole thing.

After Paul Kagame and his ragtag RPF beat the odds and liberated Rwanda, the UN settled down to feeding, clothing, and funding the bastards who had started the whole mess in the first place, who now nestled themselves into the Congo and started making things even worse for that ill-begotten place. Oh, and they also delivered some very helpful lectures about how Rwandans should just "move on" and "put the genocide behind you." Oh, where were these people in 1946? What would they have told the Jews? "Don't take it personally?"

The last thing I take away from this book is a bit more positive. We spend a lot of time looking around for real leaders in today's society, people who epitomize an idealized past of men who meant what they said and said what they meant. Well, I've found such a man. His name is Paul Kagame, and he's the President of Rwanda.

How ironic that we in the West, so certain of our superiority, are today unable to produce a leader of this caliber. A man who chooses to speak the truth because it's the easiest thing to speak. A man who spends more time trying to be understood than trying to be liked. And a man who will talk peace until he's blue in the face, then take a breath and pick up an AK-47.

The UN and the rest of the world's grownups don't much like Paul Kagame. He's got dirty hands, you see, having managed a couple of wars now to keep his country safe. Their hands are much cleaner, by virtue of having done exactly fuck all.

But he's the only authority figure in this whole sorry mess who walks out with moral authority. Pretty good for a guy who took over a war at the age of 33 after his best friend was killed in action.

At one point, Gourevitch asks, not entirely rhetorically, why the UN seemed so enamored of the Hutus, and so dead set against the Tutsis. But the answer was already clear to me.

The Hutus were asking the UN to do what it was comfortable doing. Hand out aid, keep people in camps forever, and look the other way. The Tutsis were asking the UN to do what it was not good at, and hence, not comfortable with: Send soldiers to stop the killers by force. Bring justice. Pick a side.

The lesson of Gourevitch's book is clear for me: We cannot look to the cherished institutions of globalism to save us from disaster, whether human or natural. They are too preoccupied with their own power and status to give a damn. The threatened communities must produce their own solutions, and sometimes, that solution will arrive as precisely the man on the horse that the globalists hate.

Paul Kagame: Nationalist. There are other good guys, and certainly lots of bad guys, in this movie. But altogether the wrong sort of hero gets top billing. And there's not a damn thing the UN can do about it.

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Grant Patterson
Grant Patterson
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Grant Patterson

Grant is a retired law enforcement officer and native of Vancouver, BC. He has also lived in Brazil. He has written twelve books. In 2018, two of them were shortlisted for the 2018 Wattys Awards. 

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