Tuesday, April 14, 2009

April 2009 Book Club Selection - Shake Hands With the Devil, Romeo Dallaire

Dallaire recounts story of Rwandan genocide

As the world stops, hopefully frequently, over the next few months to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, books like Shake Hands With the Devil will continue to be increasingly important.

The film recounts Lt General (ret) Romeo Dallaire's experiences during the genocide in often-excrutiating and sickening detail. It pulls the reader from cover to cover, forcing them to take note of the atrocities that unfolded in Rwanda and, more importantly, the international community's failure to stop it.

Reading the book, one could only imagine how passionately Dallaire would argue Rwanda's case before the UN general assembly, had he ever been given the opportunity to do so.

Also striking is the generosity of many lower-level officials in both the UN and foreign militaries -- contributing key pieces of equipment to the mission, even when ammunition and fuel were hard to come by. It's marvelous how often the values of ground-level officers, such as the American officer who gave the mission surplus American Armoured Personnel Carriers, fail to match up with their superior officers and leaders (American leaders had noted that 500,000 Rwandans would have to die to justify risking a single American life).

Shake Hands With the Devil is certainly not a book to savour -- it's shocking, and can even be a little dispiriting. But it's an important book to digest, so readers can come to understand how important it is that horrors such as the Rwandan genocide never be allowed to happen again.

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