Echoes of Roméo Dallaire’s nightmares rumbled in my subconscious for years after I read his book Shake Hands With The Devil, [wc] about the Rwanda genocide. While the carnage began, Dallaire was the commander on the scene with the only professional military force; he was repeatedly ordered to steer clear of getting involved while the UN and diplomats and presidents flapped their hands on television. It was then, Dallaire reminds us, that the entire international community started using elaborate vocabulary in order to avoid uttering the word “genocide.”
Avoiding the word was not to protect anyone’s delicate sensibilities – it was because of the UN Convention on Genocide of 1951 – which requires intervention if the word “genocide” is applied to a situation. But it allows passive onlooking if it’s called merely “ethnic cleansing.” That’s how “never again” became, “… well, hardly ever.” I was tempted to pull my copy of the book down and include some quotes from it, but I remember the main points clearly enough – these are my take-aways from Dallaire:
- The situation went from “bad” to “worse” much faster than anyone expected.
- The people who stood around wringing their hands and did nothing while the situation brewed, did nothing when the situation exploded.
- The genocide followed a logical progression from “bad” to “worse” and took on a certain inexorable momentum; Dallaire felt that it was probably impossible to stop it even with military force before it got started.
- The people who planned the genocide were fairly open about their intentions; they said “we will kill you” on the radio, and they meant it.
- The genocide was not organized because it didn’t need to be – the genociders had already socialized the idea that people should just grab a machete and hack people to bits – when people began actually doing it, others joined in as if it was a perfectly normal thing to do.
There’s another point that bleeds through which is that it’s very, very, very hard to stop a genocide once it gets going. The Hutu genociders eventually fled the country across the border into Zaire, magnifying the refugee crisis they created, and giving the international community an excuse to keep acting as though things were calming down. There are knock-on effects, in other words, because how do you balance and reconcile after such a thing? It’s not even appropriate to ask the victims to “forgive and forget” and it debases everyone if the situation turns into a cycle of revenge.
We don’t do a very good job of learning from it, either. Perhaps Steven Pinker believes that humanity is getting better and less violent, but I’m not convinced.
Let me introduce you to Stanton’s 8 Stages of Genocide. [wik]
Looks like we’re at about Stage 6. The light at the end of the tunnel may be a tiki torch.
|People are divided into “them and us”.||“The main preventive measure at this early stage is to develop universalistic institutions that transcend… divisions.”|
|“When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon unwilling members of pariah groups…”||“To combat symbolization, hate symbols can be legally forbidden as can hate speech”.|
|“One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects, or diseases.”||“Local and international leaders should condemn the use of hate speech and make it culturally unacceptable. Leaders who incite genocide should be banned from international travel and have their foreign finances frozen.”|
|“Genocide is always organized… Special army units or militias are often trained and armed…”||“The U.N. should impose arms embargoes on governments and citizens of countries involved in genocidal massacres, and create commissions to investigate violations”|
|“Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda…”||“Prevention may mean security protection for moderate leaders or assistance to human rights groups…Coups d’état by extremists should be opposed by international sanctions.”|
|“Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity…”||“At this stage, a Genocide Emergency must be declared. …”|
|“It is ‘extermination’ to the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human”.||“At this stage, only rapid and overwhelming armed intervention can stop genocide. Real safe areas or refugee escape corridors should be established with heavily armed international protection.”|
|“The perpetrators… deny that they committed any crimes…”||“The response to denial is punishment by an international tribunal or national courts”|
The fascists are taking advantage of the fact that they can push things far past what should be an acceptable point, because they can rely on well intentioned people not to get violent, to try to reason things through, to try to negotiate. They are actually past the point where they are interested in accommodation, they are looking for a way to win. And, in their limited terms, winning means that someone else has got to lose.
I wish I could end on a hopeful note but I’m running dry. I think that’s why I’ve been spending so much time trying to do creative work.
Dallaire says: “The empowerment of women – there’s the secret weapon.”
The US never faced what it needed to face, even after its civil war. These are centuries-old chickens coming home to roost. White supremacy was not eradicated after the civil war because the winners on both sides were white supremacists.