Thursday, April 10, 2008

Rwanda, Genocide, and Self-Education

I know this is old news, but it was a huge story during my hiatus. At the time, I wound up stumbling upon this outstanding post by the always magnificent hilzoy at Obsidian Wings.

The post itself is well worth a read because of the way in which it so utterly dispels any notion that Hillary Clinton pushed for intervention in Rwanda. But that's not really why I'm bringing this up now.

I have always had something of an understanding of what happened in Rwanda, probably a better understanding than most Americans. But that understanding was extraordinarily limited to what was reported at the time in our media outlets. I've always known the raw data of what happened, and somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain I remember hearing about the tens of thousands of bodies found washed up on the shores of Lake Victoria. But I never really understood the context of what happened, nor did I understand the international reaction to the genocide.

In the comments thread to hilzoy's post, though, I found one of the most valuable links I've ever run into. The link is a day-by-day journal written in 2004 by blogger NYCO to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide. Beginning on April 6, 2004, and concluding on July 14, 2004, NYCO provides a detailed description of the events of each day of the genocide. It is at once eye-opening, educational, stomach-churning, and depressing. In doing so, NYCO turned the genocide from an almost too-large to believe number to something that makes you painfully aware of the horrors of that time period. What happened in Rwanda 14 years ago needs to be remembered in much the way that we remember the Holocaust. For those who favored intervention in Bosnia, understanding Rwanda should remind you that an even worse ethnic cleansing was occuring at the same time we were going into Bosnia.

But there is more to this exercise than just learning the details of a horror show that ended well over a decade ago. Of course, there is much to be learned in the tale of Rwanda about the evil that prejudice, hatred, and xenophobia can wrought so easily. When you read the role of talk radio in the genocide your stomach will churn.

And beyond all that, you will find out some uncomfortable truths about the US role in Rwanda. What you will discover is that the US need not have intervened militarily if it wished to save lives. Instead, you will find that US intervention at the UN and protection of its ally's reputation, as well as intentional foot-dragging by the Clinton Administration on the delivery of rented vehicles, played a tremendous role in actively worsening the genocide.

When Bill Clinton apologized to Rwanda in 1998, he was not apologizing for failing to do enough to stop the genocide by intervening militarily. Instead, what he was really apologizing for was the active role his administration played in worsening the horror.