Man Without Qualities

Friday, April 02, 2004

Ghosts of Rwanda Haunt The Clinton White House

From The New Republic:

"Ghosts of Rwanda," a powerful, necessary documentary to be shown tonight by PBS to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide....

As an act of memory and witness; as historical indictment of not just the perpetrators of genocide, but also of the politicians and bureaucrats who allowed it to happen; as an illumination of the motives driving the murderers, as well as those animating the individuals caught in an unimaginable situation, "Ghosts of Rwanda" fails to tell a coherent story. It fails to illuminate the psychology of the U.N. and U.S. officials who refused to deploy troops that would have saved perhaps half of the 800,000 Rwandans killed over a three month period from April to July 1994. It fails to offer viewers consolation for its images of men, women, and children hacked to death by machetes, or to offer reassurance that international mechanisms are now in place to prevent such atrocities from happening again. That is to say, "Ghosts of Rwanda" is a success; it is a scathing accomplishment almost on the same level of urgency as Samantha Power's vital ray of light, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.

Violent, gritty, sordidness-exposing television drama ends on a note of happiness, coherence, and illumination. But documentaries that approach evil, and that seek the faint glimmer of heroism amid carnage, if they are true to events, do not end satisfyingly. Consider "Ghosts of Rwanda," which concludes with then-President Clinton blaming his inaction on "the people bringing these decisions to me," and emoting that "I'll always regret that Rwandan thing." Honest documentaries about extreme events do not end, period. (These passages fully rekindled my anti-Clinton fury.)

That coherent story, including the psychology of the (ir)responsible U.N. and U.S. officials, needs telling. An explanation is needed here as to why these same people found the Bosnia/Kosovo event so compelling as a call for US intervention, but covered up the Rwandan horror they knew was happening until it was far too late. Albright, Berger, Clinton, Gore, Clark, Christopher, others should explain what the essential differences were - and why the Africans didn't matter but the Europeans did.

Link from Henry Hanks.

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