Shake Hands with the Devil Hardcover – Oct 21 2003
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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
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 the Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
The memoir of Lt. General Romeo Dallaire begins with his romantic notions of a wonderful career with a band of men who protect the world they love. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Eleanor Cowan
An extraordinary book that is beautifully written. It gives a detailed account of the Rwandan genocide with excellent background information. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
Fabulous book. Perhaps too many details.
"the Rwandan story is the story of the failure of humanity ity to heed a call for help from an endangered people."
Pharaohs of the Sky
In 1994, two major events happened, at least as I recall: first, Kurt Cobain shot himself; then OJ Simpson went on a strange highway getaway and was... Read more
This is a sad book full of troubling issues that Government should be held accountable for before sending our men and women into harms way. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Chris King-Nevraumont
Must read for anyone interested in Canadian military history. Lays bare the shortcomings of UN sanctioned missions.Published 8 months ago by Fred Clark
The book clearly shows how hopeless was Dallaire's situation. His frustration comes out on every page. I don't know how the UN forces stationed there lasted as long as they did. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Doug Clark
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