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Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda [Paperback]

Romeo Dallaire
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 12 2004 0679311726 978-0679311720 1
On the tenth anniversary of the date that UN peacekeepers landed in Rwanda, Random House Canada is proud to publish the unforgettable first-hand account of the genocide by the man who led the UN mission. Digging deep into shattering memories, General Dallaire has written a powerful story of betrayal, naïveté, racism and international politics. His message is simple and undeniable: “Never again.”

When Lt-Gen. Roméo Dallaire received the call to serve as force commander of the UN intervention in Rwanda in 1993, he thought he was heading off on a modest and straightforward peacekeeping mission. Thirteen months later he flew home from Africa, broken, disillusioned and suicidal, having witnessed the slaughter of 800,000 Rwandans in only a hundred days. In Shake Hands with the Devil, he takes the reader with him on a return voyage into the hell of Rwanda, vividly recreating the events the international community turned its back on. This book is an unsparing eyewitness account of the failure by humanity to stop the genocide, despite timely warnings.

Woven through the story of this disastrous mission is Dallaire’s own journey from confident Cold Warrior, to devastated UN commander, to retired general engaged in a painful struggle to find a measure of peace, reconciliation and hope. This book is General Dallaire’s personal account of his conversion from a man certain of his worth and secure in his assumptions to a man conscious of his own weaknesses and failures and critical of the institutions he’d relied on. It might not sit easily with standard ideas of military leadership, but understanding what happened to General Dallaire and his mission to Rwanda is crucial to understanding the moral minefields our peacekeepers are forced to negotiate when we ask them to step into the world’s dirty wars.

Excerpt from Shake Hands with the Devil
My story is not a strictly military account nor a clinical, academic study of the breakdown of Rwanda. It is not a simplistic indictment of the many failures of the UN as a force for peace in the world. It is not a story of heroes and villains, although such a work could easily be written. This book is a cri de coeur for the slaughtered thousands, a tribute to the souls hacked apart by machetes because of their supposed difference from those who sought to hang on to power. . . . This book is the account of a few humans who were entrusted with the role of helping others taste the fruits of peace. Instead, we watched as the devil took control of paradise on earth and fed on the blood of the people we were supposed to protect.

From the Hardcover edition.

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It was one of the fastest, most efficient, most evident genocides of modern history. And it could have been avoided. But the United States and France were content to sit back and watch as Hutu extremists slaughtered 800,000 Rwandans in ethnic pogroms in 1994. Roméo Dallaire, then a brigadier general in the Canadian Forces, was the commander of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Rwanda and witnessed first-hand the "unfolding apocalypse," as he calls it in his stunning book Shake Hands with the Devil. The gruesome experience and his futile attempts to convince the international community to intervene left him with emotional scars that still haven't healed. He tried to commit suicide, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, got a medical release from the military, and has had extensive therapy.

The slaughter could have been quite easily prevented, Dallaire writes in his memoir, if the United Nations and western countries had sent in a small number of soldiers and resources at a crucial point when Hutu extremists were still plotting the killings and training death squads. But at critical moments, U.S. and French officials dismissed Dallaire's pleadings for action, even though they had solid intelligence about what was happening on the ground. A U.S. military staffer explained to Dallaire that it would take the deaths of 85,000 Rwandans to justify risking the life of one American soldier. Meanwhile, France had long-standing links with elite Rwandan army units closely tied to the Hutu death squads and refused to acknowledge Dallaire's warnings until it was too late.

As painful as it was for Dallaire to write this book, the final result is gripping, expertly crafted, and soul bearing. It gives a taut, riveting hour-by-hour account of the international and human drama he witnessed and the "unimaginable evil [that] had turned Rwanda's gentle green valleys and mist-capped hills into a stinking nightmare of rotting corpses." Dallaire traveled back through his blood-soaked memories, he says, in order to retrieve his soul, and has since thrown himself into giving talks about his experiences. He recounts that after one talk a Canadian military padre asked him how he could still believe in God. "I know there is a God," he replied, "because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil." --Alex Roslin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

As former head of the late 1993 U.N. peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, Canadian general Dallaire's initial proposal called for 5,000 soldiers to permit orderly elections and the return of the refugees. Nothing like this number was supplied, and the result was an outright attempt at genocide against the Tutsis that nearly succeeded, with 800,000 dead over three months. The failure of the U.N.'s wealthier members to act as the tragedy unfolded obliged the author to leave military service to recover from PTSD (as well as the near breakdown of his family). While much of the account is a thickly described I-went-here, I went-there, I-met-X, I-said-this, one learns much more about the author's emotional states when making decisions than in a conventional military history, making this an important document of service—one that has been awarded Canada's Governor General's Award. And his descriptions of Rwanda's unraveling are disturbing, to say the least ("I then noticed large piles of blue-black bodies heaped on the creek banks"). Dallaire's argument that Rwanda-like situations are fires that can be put out with a small force if caught early enough will certainly draw debate, but the book documents in horrifying detail what happens when no serious effort is made.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
4.9 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
50 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Inside View of a Horrific Event Oct. 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.
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.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 85,000 Feb. 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.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Those who do not remember the past ... Feb. 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.
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
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.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Spirit of Rwanda
Excellent writing considering the brevity of the subject and I highly recommend. It begins with a brief look at the Dallaire history and then moves forward to Mr. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Glenda Fowlow
5.0 out of 5 stars A Canadian hero who tells it like it is
This man could write a book about wind and i would buy it.A Canadian hero who tells it like it is.
Published 1 month ago by l price
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Glad I read this, but sort of ashamed of my country as they did nothing to stop it
Published 3 months ago by William A. Bolduc
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
There are lots of books out there by the survivors of genocide but this book gives insight into the muddy politics and propaganda that can lead a country there and also a greater... Read more
Published 8 months ago by bookworm
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly The Best Book Every Written
Possibly the best book every written about the Rwanda genocide. Romeo Dallaire knows how to keep you glued to his story, partially because it's all real and the mind can't... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Nate
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read.
This book is an excellent piece of non-fiction that explains in depth just what happened in Rwanda. I pray that we can avoid ever having this hatred reproduced and repeated.
Published 15 months ago by Taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars Reading This Book Changed My Life
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... Read more
Published on Sept. 22 2010 by Xena Torres
5.0 out of 5 stars EXCELLENT BOOK
A very thorough and moving glimpse into the Rwandan genocide. I met Mr Dallaire at UBC in Vancouver once and he signed my copy, he seems likes a very warm man but is obviously... Read more
Published on Sept. 17 2010 by P. R. Kennedy
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing.
This is by far one of the most interesting and informative books about any world event that I have ever read. Read more
Published on April 21 2009 by Dick Winters
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read
The international community's response to the genocide in Rwanda was negligent, disturbing and heartbreaking. There are many within the U.N. Read more
Published on Feb. 4 2009 by Nwaif
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