Thursday, August 12, 2004

Romeo Dallaire -- UNAMIR Mission to Rwanda -- 1993/4

Romeo Dallaire displayed the kind of leadership that made mere soldiers into the most potent, dedicated, high-moraled professional force during his tenure as the head of the ill-fated UNAMIR mission in 1994. The decade anniversary had recently passed -- but not an anniversary for rejoicing.

800,000 Rwandans - mostly ethnic-Tutsis and moderate Hutus - were to be hacked to death cruelly and barbarically with garden-variety rusted machetes, crude spears, and conventional knives during the genocide that took place in Rwanda and Burundi in the early 1990s.

When I personally try to conceive of a genocide, I admit -- and this is despite having personally visited places like Dachau near Munich in Germany - even having stuck my head into a crude human oven, in the most visceral experience possible - I can't. I don't think any sane person living in today's west can imagine such a thing.

I digress.

Dallaire was eventually institutionally-committed for a short spate upon returning home to his native Canada after - in his words - he'd completely failed the Rwandan people. His heroic attempts to marshall UN and world attention for the rapidly deteriorating state of affairs in that poor distant land during those years - the total ignorance, shocking ineptitude, and what he sadly had to discover through the 'brute force method' - the deliberate botching and staggering kiboshing of both military and humanitarian aid to nearly a MILLION people - were ultimately unable to prevent the ensuing disaster the Rwandan people -- and their various allies in the Great Lakes region of Africa (egs. Uganda, then-Zaire) -- visited upon themselves.

At many times during his year-long stint -- detailed in his copiously annotated book Shake Hands With the Devil -- he nearly conceded total defeat, yet persevered. He was to ultimately require anti-depressant therapy (which he still takes), psychological counselling, and an honourable discharge from the Canadian Armed Forces after what he's experienced and observed with his own eyes. Never to be the same.

The leadership he had shown under pressure, as detailed in the book, again, is truly unfathomable.

Vomiting at the sight of emaciated, ravaged, canine-mauled, severed-limbed bodies on a daily basis. The death of 10 Belgian (the former colonial power in the region) paratroopers under his command who'd been hacked to bloody, bone-protruding, flesh-rotting, maggot-infested pieces. Rwandan babies and tots being thrown naked into the air and bashed with a stick like a pinata, crushing their feeble bones. All of these things were daily fare for over a year for the retired Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Dallaire, yet he stuck it out. He might have saved hundreds of thousands of lives with his obduracy. Yet, he still felt he didn't do enough...

Pity. Eisenhower, Patton, Montgomery, Rommel, De Gaulle. These are our modern-day examples of military leadership under pressure. Even traitors like Petain in Vichy at one time. There are certainly more recent and unsung greats whose lesson should be a flame of inspiration to us all.

"Keep everlastingly at it." -- A.W. Ayers & Sons Advertising Agency -- Madison Ave., NYC (1920s)


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