Sunday, October 23, 2005

Shake hands with the Devil

In 1994, the world stood by and watched while all hell was let loose in a small African country called Rwanda. When a rocket destroyed the airplane of Rwandas President Habyarimana, the brutul Interahamwe militia backed by the the Rwandan military unleashed their guns and machetes on the Tutsi population... killing men, women, children, stranger and neighbor alike.

In the middle of that barbaric massacre, desperately trying to bring order and save lives, stood Lt. General Romeo Dallaire and a small force of 300 Tunisian, Ghanian, and Bangladeshi soldiers. Overwhelmed, outnumbered and abandoned by the UN, they fought on to save as many lives as they could. Their actions are credited with saving the lives of 20,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates... a feat in itself, although but a shadow of the 800,000 people murdered during those 100 days.

Shake Hands with the Devil documents Gen. Dallaires return to Rwanda 10 years later. One of the most powerful movies I've seen in a long time, this movie relives through the generals memories the bloody events that engulfed Rwanda, and how the country is still coming to terms with the genocide. As Romeo describes the events of those horrible days, we are taken from the bustling streets of Kigali in the present day to those same streets 10 years ago... piled with corpses and patrolled by the machete-weilding death squads. We see a man still racked with guilt for a massacre he could do nothing to prevent, despite heroic efforts against impossible odds.

The movie pulls no punches. We see the grandstanding Belgian senator Alain Destexhe accuse Dallaire of complicity in the death of 10 Belgian soldiers, saying in effect that the general should have risked his entire force to save 10 European whites, nevermind the 800,000 black Africans dying all around them. We hear how the the Catholic Church stood by as Hutu extremists used the pulpit to spread hate against the Tutsis. We learn of how the French government aided and armed the Rwandan military and the Interahamwe militia (to this day, leaders of the Interahamwe live in luxury in France). Ultimately, we see a country descending into flames and the outside world at best, turning away... at worst, feeding the fire.

And in the middle of it all, one man trying to do what was right.