Tuesday, March 10, 2009

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families

I have slacked off A LOT in the last few months. I have not been regularly writing on my blog. I have not written any book reviews. I wish I had the time to write about all the beautiful books I have read, but alas, I work full time and my laptop is finicky at best. But I just had to tell share a few of my thoughts of the book I am reading now.

We wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We will be Killed With Our Families By Philip Gourevitch is the story of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. As the title suggests, this book is NOT light reading. Readers know this from the very direct preface:I have read other books on Rwanda. Call me morbid for dwelling on humanity at its lowest, but I think there is a lot to be said about studying this subject. Pick your topic: greed, power, corruption, betrayal, ignorance-- its all there. What fascinates and horrifies me the most, though, is the the truly terrifying extent of human disinterestedness and apathy for their fellow kind. What makes people accustomed to murder? Where's the sympathy? Where is the call to action? I've thought a lot about what makes people care but not care enough. Most, I think (I hope), care when bad things happen to people, even if those people are strangers. But most people don't care enough. And how can you? How can we all make room in our busy lives, full of our own personal troubles and headaches, for another's pain? If one were to feel that much for so many, would they really be able to focus on anything else BUT the pains of the world?

Another lesson I have gleaned from my studies. A person is real in a way that people (plural) are not. Its easy for me to feel for that homeless child they did a news special on. She is real to me. I can imagine what it must be like for her. It is much harder for me to feel for a multitude of people; groups lose their individuality, their distinctness, their tangible humanity. Can I feel what it must have been like for the Rwandan dead? For those 800,000 or more who were tortured and killed? Can I understand the magnitude? I admit that on a purely surface level, 800,000 seems like a lot of people. But what does that number mean? When I look at 800,000, can I see 800,000 bodies, or do I just see the number, and nothing more? I believe that once I tragedy becomes quantifiable, it loses something important. It loses its ability to be relatable because it becomes something we see with our heads instead of our hearts/souls. When we begin to study things out with our heads, our compassion is replaced with apathy, and emotionality with rationality.

Yes. Rationally it doesn't make sense that 800,000 people died in 100 days. But it does rationally make sense that not much was done to stop it. Why would you or I or the United States meddle is something in which there is only potential loss. Loss of money, resources, time, lives, etc. In other words, why would anyone go into something with no promise of gain? Here are some noteworthy equations:

added power + added resources = action
no power + less resources = inaction.

It's really that simple.

Back to the book. Is it a little disorganized? Yes. The book goes from the personal account of a Tutsi survivor, to historical background relating to the French monarchy, to UNIMIR and its role in Rwanda. There is not a lot of guidance moving readers from topic to topic. The book is good about blending accounts. You can tell Gourevitch is a journalist. He gets down and dirty with all parties involved. He asks the tough questions. This book, like no other I have read on Rwanda's genocide, gives the story of the genocidaries, the Hutu killer, the UN secretary- general, UNAMIR, the French and Belgian governments, the RPF general Paul Kagame (interviewed before he become Rwanda's president), and even the now famous Paul Rusesabagina, owner of the Hotel Mille-Collins (Hotel Rwanda). It's all there.

I would recommend this book to almost anyone. So if you're looking for a book to read, and are not prone to depressive moods and suicidal tenancies when you watch the news, please go to the library and check it out. That's all.


Randy, Ally, and Wes said...

Thanks for sharing. I will definitely have to check out this book sometime. I think people would be really surprised to know how many things they can do to change horrific situations in the world, even if they themselves don't have impressive resources. Humanitarian organizations all over the world make it embarrassingly easy to get involved, to send emails to your representatives, etc. Individual small acts really do add up. Anyway, thanks for your thoughts!

Anonymous said...

I knew a Rwandan man once. From bits gleaned over a nine month period of interaction with him I was able to discover that he had once played a major role, a leadership role, in the powers that would soon organize into what we know as the Genocide of Rwanda. When all was prepared as it was needed, he realized what he was doing was not the right way to do it. He needed to leave. He dissolved all those under him to leave with the company cars, and on his own left through the jungle with only himself and a gun. For eight months he did so, till he had made it away from it all, but in the process had been able to see over a million of his own people die. One he knew that had escaped, who was old enough to comprehend the events, was mentally and emotionally scarred for life. It took a number of years to reunite with those he knew most. He is still discovering family and friends long since spread throughout the event. He is peaceful now, having found some peace from the tragic events through Christ, through the atonement, from hearing the missionaries after ignoring them for years on end. The events still haunt him I'm sure, but not so much as they could be.
Here's a question: We commonly define our society by the ethics within it, which shape and set the boundaries for what is acceptable and what is not. Who sets what is ethical or not? How do we know that what has been set is truly ethical and how can we define as such? Do the sides with the power control what is ethical or not since they are the winning side? What do we measure against and why? Some of these questions may seem to have obvious answers, while others may need further thought.