Bill and I watched the ‘Frontline’ special on Rwanda last night. It was beautifully done, in general, and gave much cause for continued reflection and thought.
One of the really constructive things they did was to highlight and explore the absolutely heroic role played by a small number of individuals during the genocide. It was a pity that all the featured heroes except one were non-Rwandans, since I know that many Rwandan nationals– Hutus and Tutsis–also made extremely heroic, life-saving decisions during the genocide; and always, at literally existential risk to themselves. I want to write more about this later.
But still, the Frontline program was mainly about the reaction of outsiders to what happened in Rwanda; and from that perspective, showing so concretely that there were outsiders who did make a difference for the better through simple acts of huge courage and grace just sets in even greater contrast the cowardice of people like President Bill Clinton, national security advisor Tony Lake, and even, I would say, the resposnible people at the UN: then-sec-gen Boutros Boutros-Ghali and then-head of peacekeeping Kofi Annan.
Among the real heroes highlighted were:
- two African members of the UN’s ill-starred peace force then in the country: one from Ghana, one from Senegal,
- the head of that force, Romeo Dallaire, and most especially
- the head of the ICRC’s mission in Rwanda at the time, Philippe Gaillard, and the youthful head of an American Adventist aid organization who was the only American who decided not to take the ‘save your own skin’ option, and to stay behind when all the other Americans left,
- another American hero featured was Gromo Alex, who volunteered to go into the country, to set up and run humanitarian food drops for Tutsis hiding out in various spots around Kigali.
If those individuals–including, of course, the African peacekeepers who could not expect to benefit from any of the “benefits” of white skin in that situation–could make the decisions that they did, that underlines all the more tragically the very different decisions made by Messrs. Clinton and co.
Shame, shame, shame.
On the other hand, how would I have acted had I been in their position? I do not know. So I don’t want to cast stones. But I do want to know that better and worse choices, and opportunities for real heroism and real leadership, are always possible, even in the direst of situations…
I almost hesitate, after watching and reflecting on that very powerful production, to even mention my own little contribution to WGBH’s broader project. But the interview that Marrie Campbell did with me on the aftermath in Rwanda is now up on the website. If you click here you can go and read it.