Sunday, March 04, 2007

Ghosts of Rwanda

Yesterday I watched Frontline's "Ghosts of Rwanda" which has to be one of the single most disturbing films I've ever seen. I'd read about Rwanda countless times in the last decade, though to this day, I'm unsure if I even was aware of the situation when it was unfolding in the April of 1994 through July of that same year. Even knowing the story ahead didn't lessen the shock -- the stunning gut check -- of seeing the piles of bodies and the footage of all the western powers pulling out of the country, leaving countless behind to die. I wondered, as I watched the American conveys passing the people standing on the street, how many of those people are alive today?

The film traces the development of the genocide, beginning in 1993 when General Dallaire from the UN first visited the country to the assasination of the Hutu president to the brutal murder of the Belgian peacekeeping troops and through 100 days of genocide when approximately 800,000 people were slaughtered with machetes (among other things). At that rate, with primitive weapons, the extremist Hutus would have reached, if not surpassed the Holocaust, within two years. It's astonishing to me because butchery with a machete is up close and personal. It's an intimate act and yet so many people participated, even coming up on a church and somehow managing to slaughter all 5,000 Tutsis sheltered within.

The documentary has plenty of interviews including with General Dallaire, Pierre Gaillard, and Madeline Albright among others, insights, including some very touching and heroic actions taken by the few westerners left in the country, including Pierre Gaillard, who represented the Red Cross. I was left alternately stunned by the world's indifference and by the heroism of the few who stood up to the killers, the few who had no weapons except their words and mere presence to defend against an organized, ruthless campaign of extermination.

This is an extremely strong and disturbing film with appalling graphic footage, but if you can get your hands on it, you should. It's very much like visiting a concentration camp. You can read all about atrocities, you can see pictures, but until you're face to face with it directly, you cannot even fathom the pain, the suffering, the loss, the evil. As I mentioned, this film is NOT for the faint of heart, but I also think not acknowledging what has happened in the past and not bearing witness means we will let it happen again. So much for 'never again'.

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