June 30th, 2006

My husband and I watched Hotel Rwanda last week. It is a wonderfully made, excellent, harrowing film. I recommend it without reservation. I had to steel myself for it, but I made it through ok. The director made some excellent choices about what to show and what not to show. It’s horrible all the way down, though, no doubt about that. I put myself through it because I sort of believe that Santayana quote about the past.

I sometimes think about what it would be like living in a country where genocide was occurring. After a few moments reflection, I usually conclude that I wouldn’t survive, much less help others to survive. I’d mouth off to someone and get shot, or just not be quick enough on my feet to get away, or just not find a good enough hiding place, or simply refuse to believe another human being capable of killing me. I’d be one of those uncounted bodies, littering the streets. I’m just an average sort of person, not particularly heroic or resilient. And in Rwanda, there were hundreds of thousands of people just like me, people who were hacked to death with machetes. Regular people, citizens, just going about their lives. You know, like we do.

It’s hard to reconcile, but I didn’t do anything to make the Rwandan genocide stop. I was, shamefully, barely aware of it. Our nation did nothing, nor did we demand action from it. The United Nations did not intervene, either. Hundreds of thousands killed, and we refused aid or to even listen to them die. What was I doing that was so important I couldn’t write a letter to my senator? I can’t recall. At least it’s over now, right? If only. Genocides such as the one that shattered Rwanda keep recurring. In the former Yugoslavia not so long ago, and today, in the Darfur region of Sudan. When will we stop?

We can only stop it consciously, and with effort. It’s not going to happen by itself. Think about it with me, please. There’s someone in Darfur who is just like you, except about to be killed, either by being driven off the land that provides their livelihood or by direct force. There’s someone in Darfur who is just like you, except they’ve turned their skills of herding and slaughtering cattle to herding and slaughtering people. Think about it, and hold your breath. Thank you.

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