on October 27, 2003
I feel compelled to write a review of this book, even though I have not finished reading it quite yet. I am currently on page 311, but decided to write this mostly to counter the completely illogical review from Victoria Taylor Murray, who clearly has not read this book.
IT IS NOT A NOVEL!
Dallaire was Force Commander during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and, as such, is able to provide the first insiders view of the collapse of the Arusha Accord, the subsequent resumption of hostilities between the RPF and the RGF and the rapidly unfolding genocide.
General Dallaire spends much of his book discussing his attempts to implement the Arusha Accords and, when that failed, to secure a cease-fire and protect innocent civilians. He also chronicles his frustrations with some of the troops sent to assist in the peacekeeping mission and the trouble he had getting money, supplies or an effective mandate from the UN.
Dallaire's coverage of some important issues such as the Hutu-Tutsi rivalry, the role of the Interhamwe in the genocide or the US role in preventing more forceful action are cursory - but, in fairness, they were not intended to be the focus of this book.
Dallaire has done the world a great service by sharing his experience nearly a decade after his life was upended, and 800,000 Rwandan lives were lost, in one of the most horrific humanitarian tragedies in history. And while this book is a great value to those who have a relatively deep understand of the genocide, it might not be the best introduction for those who know little or nothing about it. Dallaire provides a great amount of detail, but not necessarily the elementary background and big picture views required to understand just who was involved and what was transpiring during this chaotic 100 days.
In the end, Dallaire is a hero, as are Brent Beardsley and so many others who risked their lives to save the lives of others. And we are fortunate that General Dallaire has agreed to share his story. Perhaps with this book, the world finally will listen to a great man - a man who has proven that he can proclaim "Never Again" and actually mean it.
on June 29, 2004
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 "Peacekeeping Intelligence: Emerging Concepts for the Future"), the reality is that the UN is still unintelligent and unable to muster the strategic intelligence necessary to get the mandate right; the operational intelligence necessary to get the force structure right; and the tactical intelligence necessary to achieve the mission on the ground. Just about everything General Dallaire writes about in this book with respect to UN culture and UN lack of intelligence remains valid today: they still cannot get decent maps with which to plan a campaign or execute the mission; UN administrators are still anal-retentive bureaucrats that will not issue paper and pencils, much less soft drinks for diplomatic encounters; UN "seniors" still like the first class lifestyle on the road (they pretend to be austere only in NY); UN civilian mission leaders still misrepresent military reporting, as Booh-Booh did to Dallaire; and the UN is still ineffective in creating public intelligence with which to communicate directly to national publics the reasons why humanitarian operations must take place early and in force.
General Dallaire concludes his excruciatingly detailed book, a book with enormous credibility stemming from the meticulous manner in which he documents what happened, when it happened, and what everyone knew when (including advance warning of the genocide from the "third force" that the UN leadership refused to take seriously), with two thoughts, one running throughout the book, the second in the conclusion only:
First, and perhaps because of the mental toll he himself paid for this mission, there are frequent references throughout the book to the urgency of understanding the psychology of groups, tribes, and cultures. This is not something any Western intelligence agency is capable of today. The closest I have seen to this is Dr. Marc Sageman's book on "Understanding Terror Networks." We urgently need a global "survey", with specific reference to the countries plagued by ethnic conflict and other sources of instability, and we need to start taking "psychological intelligence" very seriously. We need to UNDERSTAND.
Second, he concludes the book by emphasizing the urgency of understanding and then correcting the sources of the utter RAGE that characterizes hundreds of thousands if not millions of young men around the world, all of whom he says have access to guns and many of whom he says will ultimately and unavoidably have access to weapons of mass destruction.
As I contemplate the six-front hundred-year war that America has started by attacking Iraq instead of addressing the social networks and sources of terrorism, I cannot help but think that this great solider and statesman has hit the nail on the head: Rwanda is coming to your neighborhood, and nothing your policy makers and military leaders are doing today is relevant to avoiding that visitation. Remember the kindergarten class in Scotland? The Columbine shootings and Oklahoma disasters? Now magnify that by 1000X, aggravated by a mix of angry domestic militants, alienated immigrant gangs, hysterical working poor fathers pushed into insanity--and the free availability of small arms, toxins, and simple means for collapsing the public infrastructure....
The complexity of society, which has lost its humanity, is leading to unpredictable and difficult to diagnose and correct collapses of all the basic mechanisms of survival. General Dallaire's book is not about Rwanda--it is about us and what will happen to us if we persist in being unintelligent about our world and the forces that could--if we were wise--permit billions to survive in peace.
In addition to this book I recommend the PKI book mentioned above, Jonathan Schell's book on "Unconquerable World," Bill Moyer's on "Doing Democracy", and Tom Atlee on "The Tao of Democracy." If we do not take back the power and restore common sense to how our nations behave and how our nations spend our money around the globe, the plague of Rwanda will visit our neighborhoods within the decade.
on February 9, 2005
In this book Dallaire remembers an official from a Western nation remarking that 85,000 Rwandans would have to die to justify the death of one soldier from his country.
Dallaire conveys the crushing sense of responsibility he continues to feel for failing to protect the 800,000 who died in Rwanda, but that weight flows through him to the reader as each of us bears blame in the failure of humanity he describes. This book forces a wrenching change of world view.
Dallaire's writing is natural and simple. Though some scenes are disturbing, he doesn't rely on gore to exact an emotional response. It's important to read this book.
on February 19, 2005
The subtitle says it all: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. To call it anything less than that is a slap in the face to those who perished in the worst genocide since Pol Pot's "Killing Fields".
Gen. Romeo Dallaire's book is a wake-up call to the fact we still haven't learned anything. George Santayana, way back in 1905, warned the world that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." In excruciating detail, the general recounts one of the most harrowing experiences in recent memory and the fact that the world turned a completely blind eye to this latter-day Holocaust. Surely, Dallaire suggests, the world should have known what was to come after the assassination which started the calamity.
By far the most chilling recollection is his conversation with someone who told him that it would take the deaths of at least 85,000 to even consider sending ONE peacekeeper from that country. 800,000 wound up dying. To think that but for the presence of just 10 American soldiers the massacre could have been stopped is not only chilling but demonstrates the incredible amount of racism that still pervades some quarters within the US government -- and even the US media, which gave scant at best attention to this tragedy.
Dallaire concedes that the American serviceman who was killed in Mogadishu and dragged through the streets in the now infamous "Black Hawk Down" incident a few months before may have given the Pentagon cold feet about Africa. But the larger point he makes is this: would the world reaction have been any different if Rwanda had oil, or gold, or some other exploitable non-renewable natural resource, rather than its most precious wonder (other than humans): The still very threatened "Gorillas in the Mist" for which Dian Fossey shed her blood more than a decade earlier?
Gen. Dallaire later relates how the severe depression he had afterwards from witnesses the carnage, and also from his failure to prevent the murders of 10 soliders under his command, nearly drove him to suicide. He is now one of the world's most forceful advocates in international affairs, and this book is just the start of his new career in that direction. "Shake Hands with the Devil" is definitely required reading for every world leader and anyone else who is still not convinced by Santayana's dictum or who could care less, just as their and our ancestors didn't give a damn during the Holocaust et sequens.
This is a powerful and compelling story of a man that cared deeply about every human life and who was repeatedly denied the necessary support from those that could have helped, it was as if no one listened and no one cared. The Peacekeepers that gave their heart and souls and in some cases their lives to save total strangers were abandoned. The reader will be touched and will understand what genocide means and appreciate the immense sacrifice Peacekeepers give.
on November 27, 2003
Dallaire's book serves to repeatedly illustrate the absolute, complete and utter failure of wealthy Western nations to extend their awareness and interest to the troubles of a tiny nation in the heart of Africa. The result was one of the fastest, most brutal, and shockingly horrific slaughters of human beings in recent memory.
While the Rwandan genocide has had much written about it since 1994, this book is particularly meaningful as it comes from the man the United Nations gave the impossible task of trying to stabilize a situation that the international community repeatedly showed it cared little about--especially if it might entail the possibility of peacekeepers losing their lives. Dallaire's tale points out over and over again the fact that the Rwandan tragedy was avoidable, and that nations like the United States and France had the means and ability to prevent the slaughter of more than 800,000 Rwandans, yet failed to act decisively until after the worst of the slaughter was over.
Dallaire's book repeatedly demonstrates that all human beings are not created equal in the minds of the wealthy nations who control the UN Security Council, and that while they may be quick to react when their own economic or political interests are at stake, they are quite willing to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the plight of millions of impoverished people throughout the Third World should their own equations of "humanitarian" assistance not be satisfied. Dallaire provides as evidence a conversation he'd had with a US military officer who indicated that at least 85,000 Rwandans would have to die before the US could justify losing just one of its soldiers to the job of restoring peace and order. I cannot believe that anyone who claims membership in the human race could not be sickened by such a cruel and racist mathematics.
on September 22, 2010
This book was a real eye opener for me. When I finished it, I immediately ran out and got all the books I could on the suggested reading list inside, and then got even more on the subject. "Shake Hands With the Devil" was the most shocking thing I ever read, both for its account of the genocide, and that I had never heard anything about it, or Dallaire, a true Canadian hero, though I was in high school during the genocide. That this horror wasn't major news was horrifying in itself. That the world knew everything and did nothing, has completely altered my perceptions about everything I thought I knew.
Thank you, Dallaire, for your efforts in Rwanda, and thank you for battling your demons and writing this book, so that eyes could be opened, in the hopes that humanity will step up in the future and not see this repeated again.
on April 21, 2009
This is by far one of the most interesting and informative books about any world event that I have ever read.
Its starts quite slow, and the first 100 pages or so could pose a challenge for some, but if you tough it out, the story picks up. Big time.
Many books have been written about crimes of humanity, Gen. Romeo Dallaire's accounts are as authentic as it gets. As the reader, you are exposed to graphic first hand acounts of the pain and suffering of the Rwandan people, as well as political issues and all the red tape that comes along with it.
I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.
This book should be required reading in high Schools across the globe.
Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it...
on December 13, 2003
This book will have you reading into the night. You simply can't put this book down. The other thing you can't do, is understand the way the world acted - or rather did not act - in Rwanda. Dallaire's book is shocking and is probably going to make you question a lot of things about international politics. Dallaire is a tragic hero, a self described casulty of this genocide, and his book is a very important historical document. Don't miss the opportunity to read this, it is a life changer.
on November 5, 2003
This is an excellent, front line account of the events of, and leading to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. It has been written from the perspective of the Canadian Lt.General Romeo Dallaire, the then Force Commander of the United Nations mission to Rwanda.
Gen. Dallaire recounts the horrors, tragedies, and ineptness of the United nations during one of the worlds darkest hours. His peacekeeping force was reduced to being bystanders in the slaughter that occured; 800 000 plus people were slaughtered systematically over a 100 day period.
It would be helpful for the reader to have a background in the ethnic divide in Rwanda during the last century, although the subject is described in it's simplest terms in this book.
This is a story of the struggle of humanity vs. politics, and how the former takes a backseat to the worlds dealings.
It is painful to read how the lives of individuals are reduced to dollar value in the united nations, but I think this is a work that everyone should read.
Genocide occurs in this modern world, and its clearly shown by General Dallaire that very few organizations and individuals are equipped, or care enough to deal with it.