From Rwanda to Iraq

Some for love of slaughter, in imagination, learning later. . .
Some in fear, learning love of slaughter;

Ezra Pound, “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley”

It must have been the juxtaposition. Without it I might not have noticed or been surprised. Paul and Roméo would have noticed but would not have been surprised. Their memories would have been sadly refreshed.

Paul is Paul Rusesabagina who was portrayed in Hotel Rwanda. His courageous actions meant that more than one thousand Rawandans given refuge in the hotel of which he was the manager did not join the more than 800,000 slaughtered in 100 days in 1994 by rampaging mobs that enjoyed killing. Roméo is Roméo Dallaire, the Canadian general then in charge of the United Nations Mission to Rwanda. He was sent to Rwanda by the U.N. in 1993 to help implement the Arusha peace accords after the Hutus and the Tutsis had signed them. He was there when the Rwandan president’s airplane was shot down, the event that precipitated the ensuing slaughter.

The words spoken by Lt. General James N. Mattis, an infantry officer who commanded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, probably evoked images Paul and Roméo would like to forget if they only knew how–images of rampaging mobs in Rwanda using machetes and guns to engage in random slaughter. The mobs enjoyed their work. That was what Hotel Rwanda showed us. The words were spoken by General Mattis on February 1, 2005.

While participating in a panel discussion sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, General Mattis expressed some of his views about war and its accompaniments. According to a tape recording of his remarks obtained by the Associated Press, General Mattis said in part: Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot. . . . It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right upfront with you, I like brawling. . . . You go into Afghanistan; you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”

Many of the Hutus who participated in the slaughter of the 800,000 would appreciate General Mattis’ approach. Anyone watching Hotel Rwanda had to be struck by the fact that a lot of the Hutus liked brawling. Some of them might even have been slapped around by Tutsis at some point in their lives and concluded that the Tutsis had no manhood left. The trials for the Rwandan perpetrators are underway in Arusha, Tanzania. It will be years, if ever, before all of them are tried. By contrast, General Mattis was admonished for his comments within a matter of days.

On February 3, Gen. Michael W. Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps issued a statement saying: “I have counseled him [Gen. Mattis] concerning his remarks, and he agrees he should have chosen his words more carefully. While I understand that some people may take issue with the comments made by him, I also know he intended to reflect the unfortunate and harsh realities of war.” It is not clear how Gen. Mattis could have chosen his words more carefully. It is not easy to say that you enjoy killing people without saying that killing people is what you enjoy doing.

In an interview with Jeff Fleischer of Mother Jones in January of this year Gen. Dallaire was asked what he had learned while in Rwanda during the slaughter. He did not say he would have enjoyed killing people. He said the important thing would have been to have been given a mandate from the United Nations to protect people. Instead, as he explained: “I was protecting people but was never given a mandate to do that.”

Today we don’t have Rwanda. We have its surrogates–among them Darfur and Uganda. General Mattis’ kind of zeal seems to be carrying the day. Seventy thousand people have been killed in Darfur in the Western region of Sudan and 100,000 in Uganda. And while the killing goes on, so do debates by those unaffected by the killing.

The U.S. thinks events in Darfur are genocide. The U.N. thinks not. The U.N. thinks the Darfur perpetrators should be tried in the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Britain and the U.S. think not, preferring a trial in Arusha in a special court created for the sole purpose of trying the accused. The government of Sudan likes neither proposal. It wants the accused tried in Sudanese courts. While the debates go on, so does the slaughter. The people living in those two countries probably wonder who’ll win the debate. Many of them will not survive to find out. That’s too bad.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a lawyer and writer in Boudler, Colorado. He can be reached at: Brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu

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