I read this book with the eye and mind of a professional intelligence officer long frustrated with the myopia of national policy constituencies, and the stupidity of the United Nations Headquarters culture. General Dallaire has written a superb book on the reality of massive genocide in the Burundi and Rwanda region in 1994, and his sub-title, "The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda" is where most people end up in reading this book.
I see things a little differently. I see this book as a massive indictment of the United Nations culture of "go along gently", as a compelling documentary of how ignorant the United Nations is about impending disasters because of its persistent refusal to establish a UN intelligence secretariat as recommended by the Brahimi Report, and as a case study in how the Western nations have failed to establish coherent global strategies--and the intelligence-policy dialogues necessary to keep such strategies updated and relevant.
According to the author, 15 UN peacekeepers died--over 800,000 Rwandans died. The number 15 is not larger because Belgium, Canada, and the US explicitly stated that Rwanda was "irrelevant" in any sense of the word, and not worth the death of a single additional Western (mostly white) soldier.
Although there has been slight improvement in the UN since LtGen Patrick Cammaert, NL RM became the Military Advisor to the Secretary General (see General Cammaert and other views in ...Read more ›
I bought this book a few days after it was released and read it within a week. It is an extremely compelling account of a horrific event from one of the few people who tried to stop it. He looked at dead or orphaned children in Rwanda and saw his own young children. He exhorted the UN and the powerful nations of the world to send him a few thousand troops, so that he could save hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. In the end, political calculus was more important to those nations than the lives of almost a million Africans. This book really changed the way I look at the world. Another really good book for exploring the role of politics in refusing to prevent genocide is "A Problem from Hell" by Samantha Powers.
Was this review helpful to you?
The terrible truth about General Dellaire's book, "Shake Hands With The Devil" is that it is so well written it takes its place among the literary classics devoted to history such as Julius Caesar's Memoirs and Gibbon's Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire. The General shows a profound awareness of literary tradition and wields it ruthelessly to expose the ruin at the heart of global humanity and how it lead to the brutal rapes, mutilations and murders of almost a million human beings in the country of Rwanda. Corpses are piled everywhere and they fill the rivers and lakes of the country. The odor of death - perhaps the most diabolic odor in the world - is so strong and intense that the General feels it is impossible to physically move. The body of a boy trembles and the General trys to assist the lad but the body crumbles to pieces filled with worms and insects that had caused the flesh to quiver.
But there is something truly disquieting beneathe all of the evils and dark strategems described by the General. His book is essentially a work of atonement - but it goes furthur. He contaminates us all with his atonement because almost all of us (myself especially) are guilty of the genocide. We did absolutely nothing while the political and economic alliances that seek to dominate our world handed the people of Rwanda over to unnatural horrors.
Those of us of rational age are guilty. We must all follow in General Dellaires on-going work of expiation.
A most powerful book that will leave you speechless - at the horror, at the incomprehensibility of the Rwandan genocide, as well as at the travails and struggles of Dallaire's UN mission under tremendous odds. The author involves you by his day to day observations, you feel the daily grind of his army life as well as the unique frustrations placed on him by his UN superiors. Yes the Rwandan genocide could have been stopped had he had the manpower and means - how efficiently we will never know. But to have to stand by while people who expected help were butchered, while endless paperwork had to be filed, while the "genocidaires" went freely about their business thumbing their noses at UNAMIR - it becomes clear why many like Dallaire suffered intensely of PTSD - how can one erase the images? They wrench the soul. Living in Rwanda and being able to associate places and names, listening to people - all of whom were touched by "la guerre" and who lost family - brings the genocide even closer , although there are no more answers now than when Dallaire was there. I do not know how Rwandans can cope, living next door to returned killers whom they perhaps know personally. I do not know how they can look at the bones of those slaughtered and go on tilling the fields, doing their chores, smiling and hugging... But as one Rwandan said to me, what choice do we have but to forgive, we cannot hate for the rest of our lives (he lost his brother and family while he himself hid for three months and so managed to survive). Instead, he has turned his brother's property into a restaurant, where there is music and dancing - he thought his brother would like such a memorial. When Dallaire came to Rwanda for the ten year memorial celebration, he saw hope among the people again - may he be right. Plus jamais.
Was this review helpful to you?