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By Lawrence Winkler


The Montréal Review, October 2023



              ‘War is father of all and king of all: some he shows as gods, others
                                       as men; some he makes slaves, others free.’                                                                                                                                      

Men heap together the mistakes of their lives, to create a monster they call Destiny. Heraclitus observed that if you sow a character, you inevitably reap one- a tyrant's authority for crime and a fool’s excuse for failure. ἦθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων. Character is fate.

Beginning on April 7, 1994, for a hundred days, one of the fastest, most efficient, most evident genocides in recent history claimed the lives of some 800,000 innocent Rwandan men, women, and children, brutally murdered while the developed world, impassive and unperturbed, sat back and watched the unfolding apocalypse, or changed the channel. It occurred because of the indifference of the United Nations, the US State department, and the European Union. And just about in that order. Heroism breaks its heart, and idealism its back, on the intransigence of the credulous and the mediocre, manipulated by the cynical and the corrupt.

The European Union had failed miserably in their sacred oath of genocide prevention, Never Again.

The United States, still smarting from their humiliation in Somalia, kept its head down, so far into the sand, to avoid being obliged to act. Under the Genocide Convention, a public acknowledgement of the phenomenon would have compelled member states to immediately intervene. But they knew.

During the first three days of the killings, US diplomats in Rwanda reported back to Washington that well-armed extremists were eliminating the Tutsi. American morning papers described door-to-door hunting of unarmed civilians. By the end of the second week, informed NGOs began to call on the Administration to use the term ‘genocide.’ This resulted in action. Diplomats and lawyers at the State Department to begin debate the meaning of the word.

By April 25, 1994, Romeo Dallaire was swimming in a bloody frenzy. My force was standing knee-deep in mutilated bodies, surrounded by the guttural moans of dying people, looking into the eyes of children bleeding to death with their wounds burning in the sun and being invaded by maggots and flies... I found myself walking through villages where the only sign of life was a goat, or a chicken, or a songbird, as all the people were dead, their bodies being eaten by voracious packs of wild dogs.

Dallaire had heard from one of the principle architects of the genocide, Colonel Bagosora, speaking ‘perfectly charming French.’

“Oh, it's so nice to hear from you.”' He said.

“I am calling to tell you President Clinton is going to hold you accountable for the killings.” Dallaire apparently told him.

“Oh, how nice it is that your President is thinking of me.” Three days later, on April 28, 1994, three weeks after the genocide began, the US State Department was still in full public denial mode.

Reporter: “...comment on... whether or not what is happening could be genocide?”

Christine Shelly, State Department Spokeswoman: “Well, as I think you know, the use of the term ‘genocide’ has a very precise legal meaning, although it's not strictly a legal determination. There are other factors in there, as well. When, in looking at a situation to make a determination about that, before we begin to use that term, we have to know as much as possible about the facts of the situation...”

Another three weeks after that, on May 18, 1994, there was another State Department press conference.

Reporter: “How would you describe the events taking place in Rwanda?”

Christine Shelly, State Department Spokeswoman:  “Based on the evidence we have seen from observations on the ground, we have every reason to believe that acts of genocide have occurred in Rwanda.”

Reporter: “What's the difference between ‘acts of genocide’ and ‘genocide’?”

Christine Shelly, State Department Spokeswoman:  “Well, I think the... as you know, there's a legal definition of this... clearly not all of the killings that have taken place in Rwanda are killings to which you might apply that label... But as to the distinctions between the words, we’re trying to call what we have seen so far as best as we can; and based, again, on the evidence, we have every reason to believe that acts of genocide have occurred.”

Reporter: “How many acts of genocide does it take to make genocide?”

Christine Shelly, State Department Spokeswoman: “Alan, that's just not a question that I'm in a position to answer.”

But nonintervention in Rwanda, by that point, was an explicit US policy objective, willfully blind to the known hard fact that, on average, eight thousand Rwandans were being butchered every day. They had deluded themselves into believing that they were doing all they could, and, most importantly, all they should, in a highly circumscribed understanding of what was ‘possible’ for the United States to do.

In late May, one US official who had kept a journal during the crisis, out of sheer exasperation, released a lamentation.

‘A military that wants to go nowhere to do anything—or let go of their toys so someone else can do it. A White House cowed by the brass (and we are to give lessons on how the armed forces take orders from civilians?). An NSC that does peacekeeping by the book—the accounting book, that is. And an assistance program that prefers whites (Europe) to blacks. When it comes to human rights we have no problem drawing the line in the sand of the dark continent (just don't ask us to do anything-agonizing is our specialty), but not China or anyplace else business looks good. We have a foreign policy based on our amoral economic interests run by amateurs who want to stand for something- hence the agony- but ultimately don't want to exercise any leadership that has a cost.’

But without strong leadership a state inclines steeply toward risk-averse policy choices. The president of the United States of America, one William Jefferson Clinton, was actively working against an international response to the crisis.

                                                       ‘Please allow me to introduce myself
                                                        I'm a man of wealth and taste
                                                        I've been around for a long, long year
                                                        Stole many a man's soul to waste.’
                                                                   Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil

On a fine day in March of 1998, four years after it was all over, in a short and detached speech to a crowd assembled on the tarmac at Kigali Airport, Bill never actually said he was sorry. With his expertise in public remorse optics, he gripped the lectern with both hands and made eye contact across the dais, at the Rwandan officials and survivors surrounding him. Shaking his head, he explained.

‘It may seem strange to you here, especially the many of you who lost members of your family, but all over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate (pause) the depth (pause) and the speed (pause) with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror...  We come here today partly in recognition of the fact that we in the United States and the world community did not do as much as we could have and should have done to try to limit what occurred.’

This inferred that the United States had done a great deal, but not quite enough. In reality, the US did more than fail to send troops. It led an effort to remove most of the UN peacekeepers already in Rwanda, blocked the subsequent authorization of UN reinforcements, and refused to jam radio broadcasts crucial to the coordination and perpetuation of the genocide. Radio is the death and life of Africa. Air Force One’s engines were left running while the ‘Clinton Apology’ was delivered. What, shall this speech be spoke for our excuse? Or shall we on without an apology?

Christopher Hitchens maintained that ‘Slick Willy’ represented the worst of the 1960s... Then the big white whale, Clinton. What about someone who is a war criminal, a taker of bribes from foreign dictatorships, almost certainly a rapist (plausibly accused, anyway, by three believable women, of rape), executed a black man (Ricky Ray Rector) who was so mentally retarded that he was unable to plead or to understand the charges...

Another banal embodiment of evil was Ghanaian diplomat Kofi Anan, then head of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and later its seventh Secretary-General. In 1972, Anan had earned a Master’s degree from the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management, and with his expertise, failing to listen to the warnings of his UNAMIR commanding officer, Romeo Dallaire, he would micromanage nearly a million people to death.

On January 11, 1994, Anan received the now infamous ‘Genocide Fax’ coded cable from Kigali. In it, Dallaire relayed the warnings of an informer, Jean-Pierre, who had laid out a complete road map for the atrocities to come. First, since the arrival of UNAMIR in late November of 1993, his Hutu superiors had ordered him ‘to register all the Tutsi in Kigali’, a list, he was persuaded, which would be used for a different purpose. He suspects it is for their extermination... Example he gave was that in 20 minutes his personnel could kill up to 1000 Tutsis. Jean-Pierre had reported Interahamwe training of 1,700 men, scattered in groups of forty throughout Kigali, in three-week sessions at Rwandan army camps. The instruction had focused on ‘discipline, weapons, explosives, close combat and tactics.’ He, himself, had distributed 110 guns, and had stockpiled 135 more, which he was willing to show UNAMIR. He had commanded a demonstration, in which forty-eight Rwandan paracommando soldiers and some National Policemen in civilian dress had participated, and for which the Rwandan army and the Interahamwe had provided radio communication, that was meant to create conditions ripe for provoking and murdering a number of Belgian UNAMIR soldiers, and thus guarantee Belgian withdrawal from Rwanda. Finally, Jean-Pierre had told Dallaire that Rwandan president President Juvénal Habyarimana ‘does not have full control over all elements of his old party... hostilities may commence again if political deadlock ends.’ Dallaire asked for permission to seize the weapons, and protection for his informant. I sent that, and then I went to bed and probably slept one of the best nights I had because I felt that, finally, we were going to- we were going to take a certain level of control that would permit us to do so much more.

The response from New York the next day, from a third-level bureaucrat, signed over the signature of Kofi Anan, was paralyzing. He not only directed Dallaire to refrain from any operations against the arms caches, but to share the informer’s intelligence with the Rwandan government, which Anan already knew had strong ties to the Hutu extremists. Also, there would be no protection for Jean-Pierre.

In Washington, the alarm was discounted. Lieutenant Colonel Tony Marley, US military liaison to the Arusha Accords, knew Dallaire was operating in Africa for the first time.

“I thought that the neophyte meant well.” He said. “But I questioned whether he knew what he was talking about.”

On February 3, 1994, Dallaire again asked for, and received, increased authority to make decisions on his own, with a reminder that UNAMIR’s mandate only permitted him to use his own weapons in self-defense.

As with the US State Department, the UN terminology charade continued through the slaughter. Not until the last week of May did Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali publicly concede that genocide had been committed. As if that name, Shot from the deadly level of a gun...

“The quick involvement of 400 excellent paratroopers may have saved the situation.” He admitted, in November of 1994, far too late.

Kofi Anan explained that the events in Somalia, and the collapse of the UNOSOM II mission in Srebrenica, had ‘fostered a hesitation’ amongst UN Member states to approve more robust peacekeeping operations. In a speech to the General Assembly in September 1999 he argued that, with individual sovereignty strengthened, and state sovereignty redefined by globalization, the UN had to re-consider whether or not the international community had an obligation to act to prevent conflict and civilian suffering (In 2005, because of this deliberate obfuscation, the UN endorsed a Responsibility to Protect doctrine that had already been part of their original mandate half a century earlier).

Scott Ritter, the former chief weapons inspector, blamed Annan for being slow and ineffective in enforcing Security Council resolutions and overtly submissive to the Clinton administration, disabling UNSCOM's ability to function, and contributing to their expulsion from Iraq.

In 2001, the Nobel Committee divided the Peace Prize between the United Nations and, ‘for having given priority to human rights,’ Kofi Annan.

“I could and should have done more to sound the alarm and rally support.” He said, three years later, ten years too late. In his farewell address to world leaders gathered at the UN headquarters in New York in 2006, in anticipation of his retirement, he pointed to violence in Africa as one of the major issues warranting attention.

In October of 2010, Annan was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Global Center for Pluralism, Canada’s new international research and education center, founded on the premise that ‘tolerance, openness and understanding towards the cultures, social structures, values and faiths of other peoples are essential to the very survival of an interdependent world.’  In 2012, he quit his position as the UN–Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria, after becoming frustrated with the UN’s lack of progress with regard to conflict resolution.

If Anan was more of a manager than a World leader, then Dallaire was more of an accountant than a General. In 1975, a Canadian Armed Forces policy was announced that would ensure francophones promoted over personnel above them on merit lists, in order to fill government-designated quotas. Romeo was one of the results of the unfair and immoral linguistic largesse that tilted the playing field, towards catastrophe. You know, the first breath of air of Africa- Oh, what a- what a phenomenal experience! It's- it felt like you were in another continent, that you were- you were- it was different. Felt a little nervousness, of course, you know, of the first shaking hands with- with those leaders and starting up the mission. A Canadian general who had never seen action, this was the command of a lifetime, a U.N. peacekeeping mission in the heart of Africa. Eventually he would write a book, which was made into a film. Shake Hands with the Devil.

                                                                   ‘I rode a tank
                                                                    Held a general's rank
                                                                    When the blitzkrieg raged
                                                                    And the bodies stank.’
                                                                              Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil

O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? Admit thine own true failure.

Romeo’s major misdeed was not his portrayal of what he may have felt compelled to let happen as unavoidably tragic. Romeo’s offense was his attempt to represent what he didn’t do as heroic. Just because you’re a tragic figure, in a tragic situation, doesn’t make you a tragic hero.

The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives. Romeo’s relish of the tragedy of his stalemated circumstances was his only quality of heroic proportions.

‘I was the commander, and hundreds of thousands of people died. I can't find any solace in statements like, ‘I did my best’... Rwanda will never, ever leave me. It's in the pores of my body. My soul is in those hills. My spirit is with the spirits of all those people who were slaughtered and killed that I know of. And lots of those eyes still haunt me, angry eyes or innocent eyes. No laughing eyes. But the worst eyes that haunt me are the eyes of those people who were totally bewildered. They're looking at me, with my blue beret, and they're saying, ‘What in the hell happened? How come I'm dying here?’ Those eyes dominate, and they're absolutely right. How come I failed? How come my mission failed? How come, as the commander, I did not convince, I lost soldiers, and 800,000 people died?... I came back with- and still live with this enormous guilt. You know, I became- fell- started falling into these depressions, and it's like a spiral. And so I'd find Scotch, mostly, and I'd just drink myself- and drink, and then I'd, you know, cut myself or try to jump off things because the pain of killing yourself is nothing compared to the pain of living with this. I was the commander. My mission failed and hundreds of thousands of people died. And that- I can't find any solace in statements like, "I did my best." A commander can't use that as a reference in any operation. He succeeds or he fails, and then he stands by and to be accused of and to be held accountable for. And my mission failed, and that's that.’

But that wasn’t that, and he did find solace, in so many excuses for failure:

There wasn’t Enough Intel- In December 1990, The ‘Hutu Ten Commandments’ had been published in Kangura, an anti-Tutsi, Hutu Power newspaper in Kigali.

1. Every Hutu should know that a Tutsi woman, whoever she is, works for the interest of her Tutsi ethnic group. As a result, we shall consider a traitor any Hutu who marries a Tutsi woman; befriends a Tutsi woman; employs a Tutsi woman as a secretary or a concubine.

2. Every Hutu should know that our Hutu daughters are more suitable and conscientious in their role as woman, wife and mother of the family. Are they not beautiful, good secretaries and more honest?

3. Hutu women, be vigilant and try to bring your husbands, brothers and sons back to reason.

4. Every Hutu should know that every Tutsi is dishonest in business. His only aim is the supremacy of his ethnic group. As a result, any Hutu who does the following is a traitor: makes a partnership with Tutsi in business; invests his money or the government's money in a Tutsi enterprise; lends or borrows money from a Tutsi; gives favours to Tutsi in business (obtaining import licenses, bank loans, construction sites, public markets, etc.).

5. All strategic positions, political, administrative, economic, military and security should be entrusted only to Hutu.

6. The education sector (school pupils, students, teachers) must be majority Hutu.

7. The Rwandan Armed Forces should be exclusively Hutu. The experience of the October 1990 war has taught us a lesson. No member of the military shall marry a Tutsi.

8. The Hutu should stop having mercy on the Tutsi.

9. The Hutu, wherever they are, must have unity and solidarity and be concerned with the fate of their Hutu brothers. The Hutu inside and outside Rwanda must constantly look for friends and allies for the Hutu cause, starting with their Hutu brothers. They must constantly counteract Tutsi propaganda. The Hutu must be firm and vigilant against their common Tutsi enemy.

10. The Social Revolution of 1959, the Referendum of 1961, and the Hutu Ideology, must be taught to every Hutu at every level. Every Hutu must spread this ideology widely. Any Hutu who persecutes his brother Hutu for having read, spread, and taught this ideology is a traitor.

In August of 1993, Dallaire flew into Rwanda with a Michelin road map, a copy of the Arusha agreement, and one encyclopedia’s summary of Rwandan history, which his executive assistant had snatched at the last minute from his local public library. This was the sum total of his intelligence data before arriving. At the same time, Hutu Power began broadcasting relentless and increasingly inflammatory propaganda, urging Hutu to stand up to Tutsi.

On November 5, an intelligence officer with the Belgian paratroopers reported decisions from a meeting chaired by President Habyyarimana at the Hotel Ribero, ‘to distribute grenades, machetes and other weapons to the Interahamwe and to CDR young people. The objective is to kill Tutsi and other Rwandans who are in the cities... The distribution of the weapons has already begun.’ Guns, grenades, and machetes were arriving by the planeload. For two days in mid-November, forty people, including local authorities, were killed in a highly organized attack in four northern communes. UNAMIR investigated the killings, but never published any results, suggesting that the UN mission could not in fact assure the security of civilians, nor even bring assailants to justice. On December 2, 1993, assailants armed with machine guns fired on a UNAMIR patrol in northern Rwanda. Senior officers of the Rwandan Armed Forces wrote Dallaire, informing him that ‘more massacres of the same kind are being prepared and are supposed to spread throughout the country, beginning with the regions that have a great concentration of Tutsi... This strategy aims to convince public opinion that these are ethnic troubles and thus to incite the RPF to violate the cease-fire, as it did in February 1993, which will then give a pretext for the general resumption of hostilities.’ The officers specified also that opposition politicians would be assassinated. They reported that Habyarimana himself had initiated this ‘Machiavellian plan’ with the support of a handful of military officers from his home region, and identified themselves as having been part of this circle until a sense of the national interest ‘inspired us with revulsion against these filthy tactics.’

A pair of international commissions, one sent by the United Nations, the other by an independent collection of human-rights organizations, warned explicitly of genocide and, on December 8, 1993, asked that the militia be disarmed.

On January 18, 1994, UNAMIR officers learned of an extensive distribution of arms at a calm general mobilization of five thousand Hutu Power supporters at the Nyamirambo stadium in Kigali, two days earlier. Three days after that, UNAMIR discovered a shipment of arms on a French DC-8 that had landed secretly at night. It included ninety boxes of sixty mm mortars.

The murders of the opposition politicians predicted by the high-ranking military officers in their letter to Dallaire, occurred on February 21, 1994. The next day UNAMIR convoy was attacked with grenades, at the same time as Interahamwe killed seventy people and destroyed property in Kigali. On February 28, a shell landed near UNAMIR headquarters. In March, UNAMIR discovered four more weapons shipments and distributions.

Dallaire attended a party April 4, 1994, where Bagosora announced that ‘the only plausible solution for Rwanda would be the elimination of the Tutsi.’ Two days later, Dallaire was sitting on the couch in his bungalow with his executive assistant, planning a national Sports Day, and musing out loud. You know, Brent, if the shit ever hit the fan here, none of this stuff would really matter, would it? In the next instant the phone rang, informing him that Rwandan President Habyarimana’s Mystère Falcon jet had just been shot down. Dallaire raced to a crisis meeting at Rwandan army headquarters, to find Colonel Bagosora in charge, vowing to launch an ‘apocalypse.’

If one stops to consider all the early warning signals of the coming genocide- the previous massacres and assassinations, extremist political activity to unsettle the peace talks, the public media racist propaganda, the continuous weapons stockpiling in violation of the peace accords, the militia training and complicity in mass murder, the note from the Rwandan military officers and informer Jean-Pierre’s reports of concrete plans for genocide, the Intel was fine.

I Didn’t Have the Authority/ Enough Logistical Support- On December 24, 1993, the procedures for establishing the weapons-free zone went into effect. According to its mandate, UNAMIR, in cooperation with the National Police was charged with ensuring that Kigali was free of weapons. Three weeks later, the Belgian ambassador sent a long message to his Ministry of Foreign Affairs, complaining that Dallaire was unwilling to act without explicit approval from New York and, unless UNAMIR acted promptly to seize them, weapons would be quickly distributed to the Hutu Interahamwe. By January 30, 1994, after 924 mobile patrols, 320 foot patrols, and the establishment of 306 checkpoints, UNAMIR had collected only nine weapons. Romeo repeatedly complained about the sole radio station in Kigali fomenting hatred. He could have sent out a squad to destroy it, at any time, but didn’t bother. ... we were already getting all these stories about a third force, you know, of- squadrons of killers. And we couldn't confirm anything. We were just getting all that, you know, as rumors, innuendoes, and we couldn't cross-check the damn stuff because I was not allowed to have an intelligence capability. So all that sort of- sort of came as a dark cloud. Ultimately, I- I felt we could do it. But that is a bravado, I think, also, from my part. Nothing was going to stop me. Bit of innocence in there, eh?

The Belgian foreign minister wrote to the UN secretariat February 11, 2004, expressing concern that Dallaire had not addressed a more active role for UNAMIR, although the week before he had said he would make some concrete proposals.

Three days later, the Belgian ambassador at the UN reported that the reaction of the secretariat was ‘rather perplexed,’ because they had already increased Dallaire’s prerogative in helping local authorities collect arms and dismantle weapons stocks. By February 27, Romeo, having sought clarification from New York of his mandate to confiscate weapons another two times, accepted a low level bureaucrat’s instruction to terminate his plan to seize weapons caches, and expose his informer Jean-Pierre to certain death.

On April 10, 1994, three days after the killing began, Dallaire commanded 440 Belgians, 942 Bangladeshis, 843 Ghanaians, 60 Tunisians, and 255 others from twenty countries. He could have also called on a reserve of 800 Belgians in Nairobi. If the major powers had reconfigured the thousand-man European evacuation force and the 300 U.S. Marines on standby in Burundi and contributed them to his mission, he would have finally have had a sizable deterrent force. His deputy, General Henry Anyidoho, assured Dallaire his Ghanaian peacekeepers would stay. And that was all I needed. That meant that I would still have troops on the ground, which were good troops- not well equipped, but good troops. So I stood up and I said, ‘Henry, we're not going to run. We're not going to abandon the mission. And we will not be held in history of being accountable for the abandonment of the Rwandan people.’ It was just morally corrupt to do that. And that's why I went back and told them to go to hell.

Ten years later, almost to the day, Paul Kagame admitted that he was so frustrated by Dallaire’s failure to intervene that he had contemplated overpowering the United Nations peacekeeping force. This day’s black fate on more days doth depend; This but begins the woe, others must end.

‘“I used to ask General Dallaire what he as a general and his forces were doing to stop the genocide.” Said President Kagame, who in 1994 was the head of the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front. The answer to me was that he did not have the mandate.

And I asked him, what mandate did he then have? I thought the generals, the forces they led, the weapons they had, had been sent here to show that the peace process was implemented. And in so doing they would protect Rwandese.

Then I asked him, ‘What about the arms? What about the soldiers you have?’ The answer was, ‘No mandate.’ Then I would ask, ‘What are you doing here? You have no mandate, you are not going to protect people, so what are you doing here?’ In fact, at one point I asked him, ‘Why don't you give me those arms and stay back, and I will use those arms to protect people?’ Kagame said General Dallaire did not respond to his questions.’

We had to be Nice Because We were Doing Good- There was some very Canadian values on display here, some very bureaucratic ones, and some very synergistic ones- concerns about cross-cultural miscommunication, a desire not to rock the boat, the nonprofit factor, the discomfort with confrontation, the unshakable belief that for every clash, there was a compromise. I do not want to be viewed as a bully. On February 6, 1994, Dallaire suspended weapons searches at UNAMIR checkpoints, following a number of incidents with Rwandan soldiers. I was also determined to continue to keep negotiations going because maybe it'll stop. Maybe, with a ceasefire, you know, between the two belligerents, we might be able to stop the massacring. When the ceasefire talks went nowhere, Dallaire asked to meet directly with the commanders of the death squads. And as I was looking at them and shaking their hands, I noticed some blood spots still on them. And all of a sudden, it didn't- they disappeared from being human. All of a sudden, something happened that turned them into non-human things. And I was not talking with humans, I literally was talking with evil. It even became a very difficult ethical problem. Do I actually negotiate with the devil to save people, or do I wipe it out, I shoot the bastards right there? I haven't answered that question yet. Which raised the question. When was he going to answer the question?

Nonintervention does not mean that nothing happens. It means that something else happens. Romeo Dallaire was supposed to be a soldier, a military commanding officer, the very embodiment of action, an absolute antithesis to Canadian bureaucratic fidelity to Ellard’s Laws. Those who want to learn will learn. Those who don’t want to learn will lead enterprises. Those incapable of wither learning or leading will regulate scholarship and enterprise to death.

There were other excuses in play through Romeo’s Shakespearean tragedy- the game was fixed, the whole world was against me, they just didn’t understand what I was trying to do, there were extenuating circumstances, poor timings, uncertainties... shoulda, woulda, coulda.  And the blame was wrongly apportioned. Rwanda’s indigenous evil, the root cause of the genocide, wasn’t tribal hatred, but ‘colonial discrimination,’ the fault of the devious French, the greedy Belgians and, of course, the unscrupulous Americans.

The genocide, itself, was the fault of inadequate international response from those same original imperialist perpetrators. As for his mission, Romeo heaped abuse on his own Belgian paratroopers, accusing them of poor discipline, drinking, consorting with Rwandan women, and racism, more mistrustful of his only effective troops, than of the genocide’s architects. He took a story of horrific black on black mass extermination facilitated by the UN, and adapted it to the casuistic, single-size narrative made fashionable by anti-Western celebrities like Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky, and sliding over his own less than honorable performance in the process.

Probably the most damning contradiction of Dallaire’s position, that it was impossible to be a real hero, was the actual existence of several. At Hotel des Mille Collines ten peacekeepers and four UN military observers protected several hundred civilians sheltered there for the duration of the crisis.

One of the most impressive was an officer in his own UNAMIR detachment. From the first hours of the genocide, Captain Mbaye Diagne of Senegal, an unarmed UN observer, had ignored orders to remain neutral.

On April 7, 1994, the morning after the Rwandan President’s plane was shot down, Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and her husband were assassinated by soldiers of the Presidential Guard. Ten Belgian peacekeepers assigned to her protection were also murdered. Later that morning, Captain Mbaye, came unarmed to investigate and found the prime minister's four children hiding in the adjoining compound closet. Dallaire told Mbaye to wait for UNAMIR armored personnel carriers to rescue the children later that day, but the APCs never appeared. Mbaye put the children in the back seat of his vehicle, covered them with blankets and made his way back to the hotel.

It soon became apparent that Mbaye was ignoring orders and carrying out rescue missions. Because he had to pass through dozens of checkpoints tasked with killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus, Mbaye ferried at most five people on each trip. In order to get past, he relied on his extensive contacts among the military and militias, his ability to defuse tense situations with quick jokes, and occasional bribes of cigarettes, money and, although a devout Muslim, alcohol. The number of lives he saved singlehandedly was ‘at least hundreds.’

The head of UNAMIR humanitarian operations gave an ironic explanation as to why he was not rebuked: ‘Here’s someone who stepped out of line and the General is not going to discipline him, because he's doing the right thing.’

On 31 May, just two weeks before he was scheduled to go back to Senegal, Captain Mbaye was driving alone back to UN headquarters with a message for Dallaire, when he was killed by shrapnel from a mortar shell landing behind his Jeep.

Which brings us to the question- What was real reason for Romeo Dallaire’s ineffectuality, even beyond the darkness he was being swallowed by? Was it just Canadian bureaucratic inertia, or something more fundamental. Character is destiny.

Man gives every reason for his conduct save one, every excuse for his crimes save one, every plea for his safety save one; and that one is his cowardice. Ay, so I fear; the more is my unrest.
On April 7, 1994, as Dallaire was asking UN headquarters for guidance, and driving to find the extremist Hutu leadership, ten of his Belgian troops were taken hostage and led away. Passing the army headquarters, he caught a glimpse of his blue-helmeted soldiers, inside the compound, lying in the dirt. And at the gate, as we went by, I saw two soldiers in the Belgian uniform lying on the ground about 50-odd meters inside- inside the camp. And so your whole life is dependent on those nano-seconds of taking that right decisions because it's life and death. I was already saying, ‘I can't get those guys out of there. I just don't have the forces or the deployment capability. I've got so many other troops that I don't know of and all the vulnerability of the rest. I can't take these bastards on.’ To do anything for them and for the others, I had to negotiate.

So he did not stop. He did not radio or telephone his headquarters. He did not alert a nearby company of paras to rescue them. At the next gate he dallied with Bagasora, but did not to mention his troops, whom he knew were being beaten not 200 yards away. I'll tell thee, ere thou ask it me again. I have been feasting with mine enemy... The messengers of discomfort and sacrifice will always be stoned and pelted by those who wish to preserve at all costs their own contentment. Several remained alive for hours, all ultimately mutilated and massacred, in unknown order, while the General was making his position known. And so what I was making clear to them was, is that I'm staying.

But that didn’t matter anymore. The genocidaires saw an officer who wouldn’t protect his men, a man who threw away his only military asset, a man who wouldn’t, therefore, defend mere Tutsi ‘cockroaches.’ Any hopes of bluffing his way to peace were gone. Finally, a phone call, after insistence, came in and said that they are all at the hospital, at the morgue. And so I said, ‘Right. Let's go.’ Morgue was a little shack, and a bit of an L-shaped small shack. And it was a 24-watt bulb, at best. And there in the corner of the L-shape was this pile of potato bags, just looked like a pile of potato- big, huge potato bags. And as we got closer, we saw that they were bodies. Romeo was left to issue nightly pleas over the airwaves and, in his impotence, become a Canadian hero.

To this day, he is reviled in Belgium, which launched a Senate inquiry into the episode, and found him responsible for the deaths of their peacekeepers. Dallaire refused to testify, a fact oddly omitted in his book. I have done my duty. I continue to do it.

And then the General came marching home again, hurrah, hurrah. In the paradoxical mirror-image universe of Canadian heroism, Dallaire took a meteoric ride into redemption and recognition, and reward. If words spoke louder than actions then, by any measure, Romeo was finally punching above his weight. Where other men might have felt eternal shame at the piles of corpses testifying to their failure, Romeo saw a book deal. Ay, mine own fortune in my misery.

                                      ‘Pleased to meet you
                                       Hope you guessed my name
                                       But what's puzzling you
                                       Is the nature of my game.’
                                         Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil

In January of 1996, after receiving the Meritorious Service Cross, one of Canada’s highest military awards, Dallaire was presented with the US Legion of Merit. Four years later, progressive CBC commentator Carol Off published The Lion, the Fox & the Eagle: A Story of Generals and Justice in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, a purportedly non-fiction book presenting the biographies of three Canadians who had worked in UN roles during the 1990s. Romeo Dallaire was the lion, praised for his commitment to his peacekeeping mission; Lewis Mackenzie was the fox, depicted as being ignorant of the Bosnian political situation; and Louise Arbour was the eagle, lauded for her efforts at the International Criminal Tribunals.

On March 24, 2005, Prime Minister Paul Martin selected Romeo to become a Liberal Senator, eligible to sit for seventeen years. The following day Dallaire began a frenzied quest for land, in support of his appointment. On Sep 16, 2005, he was awarded a Doctorate by Trent University, and on March 22, 2006, Georgetown University honored him as a ‘foe of genocide, and complacency.’ Two months later Romeo was appointed to yet another prestigious, high-level position, the UN Advisor to Genocide, and two weeks later, his film, Shake Hands with the Devil, was released, based on his book of the same name (foreword by Samantha Power). Dallaire would appear as the lion in three other documentaries, The Last Just Man, The Journey of Romeo Dallaire, and The Greatest Canadian. In September of 2006, Concordia University named him a Senior Fellow, where he would speak about his knowledge of combating genocide. I doubt it not; and all these woes shall serve For sweet discourses in our time to come.

And on Jan 13, 2007, he was acclaimed as a national hero by having a Beethoven opera rewritten in his honor, the same one that was playing in my airport cab, at the beginning of this odyssey. The Arab taxi driver was playing some version of Beethoven's Egmont Overture from the Montreal symphony, overdubbed with a libretto about a Canadian general, an exuberant tribute of his failure to prevent the Rwandan genocide. We Canadians like our heroes tragic. Some countries make heroes out of heroes. Some countries make heroes out of cowards who pass themselves off as heroes. Only Canada could make a hero out of an anithero who admitted to being a coward.

In November of 2010, Romeo published another book, They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children: The Global Quest to Eradicate the Use of Child Soldiers, in an evolving genre that he could claim as his own.

But the Unity of Opposites was coming. The way up is the way down, and the way forward is the way back. Second order guilt is the guilt over an absence of guilt. Karma. This shall determine that.
By August of 1994, Romeo wasn’t sleeping so well. He carried a machete around, and lectured cadets on post-traumatic stress disorder. He found himself retching in the supermarket. I can tell you; but young Romeo will be older when you have found him than he was when you sought him...

Four years later he admitted to being suicidal. In April of 2000 he was forced out of the Canadian armed services with a medical discharge, after two unsuccessful attempts at taking his own life. Ay me! Sad hours seem long.

On June 27, 2000, Dallaire was hospitalized after losing consciousness under a park bench in Hull’s Jacques Cartier park. He had taken a mixture of alcohol and anti-depressants. Griefs of mine own lie heavy in my breast... Six days later, his old defense and a new frontier were read on the air.

                       ‘Thank you for the very kind thoughts and wishes.

There are times when the best medication and therapist simply can't help a soldier suffering from this new generation of peacekeeping injury. The anger, the rage, the hurt, and the cold loneliness that separates you from your family, friends, and society's normal daily routine are so powerful that the option of destroying yourself is both real and attractive. That is what happened last Monday night. It appears, it grows, it invades, and it overpowers you.

In my current state of therapy, which continues to show very positive results, control mechanisms have not yet matured to always be on top of this battle. My doctors and I are still working to establish the level of serenity and productivity that I yearn so much for. The therapists agree that the battle I waged that night was a solid example of the human trying to come out from behind the military leader's ethos of ‘My mission first, my personnel, then myself.’ Obviously the venue I used last Monday night left a lot to be desired and will be the subject of a lot of work over the next while...

                                      Thanks for the opportunity.
                                              Warmest regards,


He was still posing for the cameras. In 2001, Romeo made himself a spokesman against the scourge of child soldiery. In September of 2003, Sian Cansfield, a journalist who had worked closely with Dallaire on his writing, committed suicide. More light and light; more dark and dark our woes! Four years later, Romeo remained silent when Rwandan genocidal Hutus attacked Congo Tutsis.
In October of 2008, General Lewis Mackenzie, Carol Off’s ignorant fox in the feeble book she got everything wrong in, expressed his reservations about Dallaire's celebrated mental problems being caused by the horrors he witnessed in Rwanda. Romeo had, by this time, become something of a poster boy for PTSD.

While Mackenzie largely agreed with Dallaire’s premise that a general must always ‘put his mission first, his soldiers second and himself third,’ he very reasonably argued that there were rare situations when soldiers must take priority over the mission. Specifically, he contended that Dallaire should not have put his United Nations peacekeeping mission first, after Rwanda had obviously exploded in violence on April 6, 1994. I will go to my grave arguing that there are times- important times, albeit rare- when a commander’s responsibility for his or her soldiers comes before the mission. The trick is to recognize the times. Senator Dallaire, who has filled his life with good works both during his military service and since his retirement from the military, offers dangerously bad advice on this aspect of leadership when he argues the contrary. Mackenzie asserted that, had Mr. Dallaire ignored his peacekeeping mandate and taken up arms to save the Belgians, their lives might have been saved. If Romeo had fought the Hutus as hard as he fought Mackenzie, he may have yet held the moral high ground.

In 2007, Romeo announced his position on Darfur, specifically another change of mind on how best to save children in Darfur, a veritable buffet of serial indecision- leave them alone, get involved, use only African peacekeeping troops, include European troops, whatever...

Dallaire had been chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, and served on the committee for National Security and Defense, but it was in his capacity as a member of the Anti-terrorism committee that his quest to bring a terrorist ‘home’ to Canada grew wings. Romeo had been frantically lobbying for the return of Omar Khadr, the murderer of Christopher Speer, a medic who six days earlier had walked into a minefield to save two wounded children. O, let us hence; I stand on sudden haste. Omar was the son of Ahmed Khadr, Canada’s highest-ranking member of Al-Qaeda. The Pakistanis had locked him up, but thanks to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, of Romeo’s Liberal Party, Papa Khadr was set free and came home to Canada. After a short ceasefire, Ahmed was back to his old tricks and was finally blown away in Waziristan. Before he shifted off his mortal coil, Papa Khadr had fathered a clan of five children, including Omar.

Abdul Kareem Khadr was left paralyzed in the raid, but returned to Canada to bask in the joys of the country’s health care system, which took such good care of him that two years later he was charged with sexual assault against a minor. Even younger than Omar when he was shot, no word from Romeo on his willingness to help rehabilitate this ‘child soldier’ before he went after any more children.

Abdullah was caught while trying to acquire surface-to-air missiles to resell to a high-level member of Al-Qaeda, but Canada has refused American requests to extradite him.

Zaynab Khadr, the only girl, married a terrorist at a wedding attended by Osama bin Laden, and had been accused of aiding Al-Qaeda. The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. I'd love to die a martyr. It's a desire that I believe that any Muslim would have or should have.

Finally Abdurahman Khadr, once a temporary ward of Osama bin Laden, was captured and also sent to Gitmo, also back in Canada and the scriptwriter for Hotel Rwanda, which featured Romeo Dallaire. Abdurahman is supposed to be writing the movie based on his life. The producers would like Johnny Depp to play him.

In 2008 Romeo compared the US and Canada to terrorists.

 “Is it your testimony that al-Qaeda strapping up a 14-year-old girl with Down syndrome and sending her into a pet market to be remotely detonated is the moral equivalent to Canada's not making extraordinary political efforts for a transfer of Omar Khadr to this country?” Asked a Conservative MP.

“Absolutely,” Romeo replied.

The freelance moral conscience of the world, walking proof that you can watch genocide happen and then turn that into a lucrative career of telling people how sad the genocide made you, with his ‘defiant dedication to humanity’ and ‘courage and leadership,’ a ‘devoted humanitarian,’ sat on the anti-terrorism committee, but apparently couldn’t tell the difference between Al-Qaeda and Canada.

The bony hand of the devil that Romeo shook in Rwanda, that he still clasped as he agitated for Omar Khadr, was a hallmark of moral blindness. Rwandans died because Romeo stood below the genocide balcony with firepower, but no will to use it. Rather than accepting responsibility for his failures, he accepted the accolades of a government and media intent on inventing Canadian heroes rather than celebrating real ones.

As the average Canadian Forces soldier began to interminably suffer from Saint Romeosis, a cruel parody became so inevitable, that he was mercilessly lampooned in the ‘Romeo Dallaire School Of Military Leadership.’

1. You are a General Staff, Canadian Artillery Officer, sent to a small, backward, African nation on the brink of Civil War and Genocide. You have been provided insufficient resources to accomplish your mission, and indeed, your mission goals are not even clear. As per the motto of the Canadian Airborne Pathfinder Course, you cannot win, you must lose, and there is no way out of the game. Do you: 

a) Travel to New York, seek clarification and further resources;
b) Call New York and threaten to resign if your requests fail to receive consideration;
c) Fire off a memo and hope for the best.
Correct answer: (c)

2. During this mission, everything begins to turn to the proverbial ‘shit.’ Factions within the country begin a wholesale slaughter of innocent civilians, and it becomes apparent that the actual goal of certain forces is not just victory, but genocide. Your request to both New York and Ottawa for troops to help diffuse the situation goes unheeded. Do you:

a) Jump on the next flight to New York, resign in disgust, then hold a press conference accusing the UN of doing nothing to stop the horror;
b) Jump on the next flight to Ottawa, resign in disgust, then hold a press conference accusing the Canadian Government of doing nothing to stop the horror;
c) Hope for the best.
Correct answer: (c)

3. As things go from bad to worse, a group of Belgian Paratroopers under your command are taken hostage by murderous African savages intent on hacking them to death with machetes. While travelling to meet the thug’s leader for a pre-scheduled conference, you witness the events. Do you:

a) Detour to the Belgian Battalion HQ, inform them of the incident, then begin organizing a rescue mission with well trained European troops;
b) Demand your driver stop, get out, approach the thugs, and try to use the force of your presence and authority to negotiate and diffuse the situation;
c) Go to the meeting, confront the thug's leader, and demand the release of the Belgians, warning that a failure to do so will result in massive retaliation from the remaining western troops in the country;
d) Go to the meeting, say nothing, hope for the best.
Correct answer: (d)

4. Things have degenerated into a total mess. Villagers are being slaughtered, the Belgian paras have walked away from the mission, burning their blue UN berets on the tarmac at the airport in protest at the lack of action taken to protect their brothers, and your HQ is surrounded. Your staff is seeking direction. Do you:

a) Take whatever force you have left, find the leader of the aggressive force, and take him on;
b) Fly to New York, set up in the front lobby of the UN, and begin excoriating the UN bureaucracy for allowing genocide;
c) Lock yourself in your office, and have a good cry.
Correct answer: (c)

5. (Answer only if you answered correctly up to this point)
After 10 of their soldiers died under your command, the Belgian Government asks you to testify at a Parliamentary inquiry they hold into the affair. Do you:

a) Attend, take full responsibility as the force commander, and explain your actions, thereby offering the dead soldier's families some degree of closure;
b) Stay in Ottawa, refuse to testify, and blame the UN while going off on stress leave;
c) Blame the UN, then use an obscure directive from it to justify not attending the inquiry;
d) Crawl under a park bench and cry.
(This is a trick question- b, c, or d would be acceptable)

6. Following your return to duty at Defense HQ in Ottawa, you are promoted twice, to Lt General. Your duties include sharpening all pencils that you locate in the office areas and sending off memos regarding the importance of ensuring the building's fire extinguishers are charged properly. Do you:

a) Bide your time, hope everybody forgets, then retire quietly into the sunset;
b) Draw the blinds, play with plastic soldiers on your desk and shout at anyone who bothers you during the day;
c) Accept a Senate appointment from the same Liberal Government who you've previously blamed for not doing enough to help you not fuck up the UN Mission to Rwanda;
d) All of the above.
Correct answer: (d)

7. This Liberal Government, the same one who’s treated the Army like shit during your entire career, gives you a senate seat. Due to rampant corruption, they are facing defeat in a non-confidence motion by the opposition Conservatives (a party that's always been pretty good to the Forces). In a flagrant attempt to save themselves, they offer 100 soldiers and a few million dollars to the ongoing genocide in the Sudan. Do you:

a) Stay true to your principles and decry the announcement for what it is- a crass political stunt that will have no effect on the ground in Africa;
b) Refuse to partake in a press conference with the Prime Minister, announcing that you are above partisan politics and won't betray your principles;
c) Get on board, repay the patronage plum you've been granted, and make the ludicrous suggestion that if you'd had 100 quartermasters and POL techs, and a couple of million bucks in Rwanda, then you could have stopped the genocide.
Correct answer: (c)

In December of 2013, Dallaire crashed his car on Parliament Hill, after falling asleep at the wheel. Tut, I have lost myself; I am not here; This is not Romeo, he’s some other where.

Before he announced his retirement from the Senate on May 29, 2014, Romeo lobbied for the construction of a Vimy monument replica, to be known as ‘Mother Canada.’ In November 2015, he wrote a piece for the Globe and Mail, called Canada must do more than simply remember its soldiers, in which he proposed a ‘social covenant’ requiring the Canadian government to ensure: 1) that Armed Forces members and their families receive adequate health care, including the appropriate level of support to mitigate the consequences of both mental and physical injuries incurred during their service; 2) that a compensation program allow military families an acceptable standard of living and a secure and stable financial future; 3) that armed Forces members reach their fullest potential in career achievements within and outside military service; and 4) that they receive proper recognition by a grateful country for their service and sacrifice. The way to win back support for an expert in doing nothing, from mistrustful comrades, was a gravy train with chunks.

And the last I heard from him, was his contributing excerpt in late 2015, from In Flanders Fields, an anthology of impressions about Dr. John MacRae’s poignant poem of real horror and loss. I do not reminisce- I relive. I, like many others, have been in the midst of war and human destruction... I witness again the incredible suffering of the innocent... And it renders our resolve to fight, even to the point of the ultimate sacrifice, all the more complicated... No, what compelled me in Rwanda in those moments of dire danger was the thought... I would not break faith... Although I knew the cavalry was not coming over the hill, I realized I did not stand alone. The generations who had faced adversity in combat were by my side... reinforcing my will to fight.

His will to fight. Fight what?

                                   ‘So if you meet me
                                   Have some courtesy
                                   Have some sympathy, and some taste
                                   Use all your well-learned politesse
                                   Or I'll lay your soul to waste.’
                                        Rolling Stones, Sympathy For The Devil

And yet he could have fought.

Before 6 April, Dallaire could have employed a creative array of subtle actions, in a response aimed at de-escalation: preventive diplomacy, demonstrations of resolve, political lobbying, and a moderate shows of force. The main tool would have been information rather then weapons, and the goal to cause the genocidists to reconsider, delay or even abandon their scheme, and to have them removed from power or isolated, or in the very least, frustrated in their planning.

Preventive actions would have dealt with people, plotters and resisters, (gathering more information from Jean-Pierre and other informers, and influencing a few selected individuals in the Rwandan official chain of command to provide inside information, and minimize their participation in the genocide), the genocide structural networks (identifying potential resisters of genocidal plots from human rights groups, moderate political leaders, and prominent Tutsis; determining the characteristics of the plotters, what the power base was and who might oppose them; their relationships to the president, the cabinet, the army, police, Interahamwe, and the political parties; and their ties to other nations; providing that information to the Rwandan president, eager himself not to displease the international community; developing a political strategy to expose the genocidists, informing others of their intentions, letting them know that they were under suspicion and their activities being questioned, and ultimately insisting on their dismissal., bringing pressure against the Interahamwe, the Presidential Guard, Network Zero, and Radio Mille Collines, organizations which relied on foreign support, as evidence of their complicity in genocide plots mounted, insisting on a more exact accounting for funds and materials, and pinpointing the perpetrators and, if possible, punishing them; shutting down the radio station, as was done in Bosnia to the radical Serbs; revealing the diversions of international aid funds for Interahamwe training., and a more aggressive pursuit of the weapons of the genocide (raiding illegal arms caches, and a forceful insistence on their embargo, monitoring and confiscation of illicit weapons flowing into Kigali, in accordance with the agreements).

After April 6, the locals began to make fun of UNAMIR. They distorted its French acronym MINUAR to MINUA, moving the mouth in Kinyarwanda, implying that UNAMIR talked big, but didn't act.

Dallaire could have consulted with Bushnell or to Tony Marley, the U.S. military liaison to the Arusha process, during the genocide, but he did not. Indeed, I should have ask’d you that before. Early recognition and a UN public announcement would have focused more international attention on the developing horror, increased pressure by NGOs and an outraged public to stop the killings, and caused the Security Council to strengthen UNAMIR at an early stage.

Chapter VII could have been invoked, permitting the UN to use force against the will of a party, even of a member state. This had been done at least a dozen times since the end of the Cold War and so was feasible, if the political will had existed.

Quick concrete offensive actions during the first crucial weeks of April by an intervening force would have saved thousands of lives. Dallaire himself had developed a proposal in May of 1994 while still in the field. An intervention force of 5,000 would, he argued, have been sufficient to halt the slaughter. He had even emphasized the importance of gathering information on the perpetrators for later use in criminal tribunals. Such action might have isolated the genocide to the Kigali sector before it spread, making it easier to establish safe zones with dug-in fortifications in the countryside for fleeing refugees to enter, under protection of the United Nations. These protected areas, like the ones retained in Kigali at the Milles Collines Hotel, the King Faisal Hospital, and the city's main Stadium, were defensive options that clearly posed less risk to peacekeepers. A more aggressive UN force deployed immediately after April 6, could have started sending armed units with armored personnel carriers to halt the killings elsewhere. Radio ‘counter-broadcasts’ could have been transmitted, and the Hutu antenna could have still been destroyed on the ground or from an airborne platform.

The UN application of any combination of a number of the above measures may very well have stopped or slowed the genocide before it reached its peak frenzy across the traumatized nation, and the fate of the Rwandan people might have been very different. But all these things- war and money and cruelty- are passing illusions. These are the unquenchable realities- the power of the expanding seed to break a stone, the strength that sustains men to die for others, the shortness of life that makes it so precious, all futurity hungering in us that makes woman taste so sweet.

All that happens in world history rests on faith. If the faith is strong, it creates world history. If the faith is weak, it suffers world history. The opposite of faith is not heresy but indifference. Love will find a way. Indifference will find an excuse.

                               ‘If you don't want to do something, one excuse is as good as another.’
                                                                                                                     Yiddish Proverb


Lawrence Winkler is a physician, traveler, and natural philosopher. His molecules have morphed from medicine to manuscript. He lives with Robyn on Vancouver Island and in New Zealand, tending their gardens and vineyards, and dreams.

* Excerpted from Fire Beyond the Darkness: A Metaphysical Journey (Bellatrix, 2016) by Lawrence Winkler


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