This is the most painful film I’ve seen in many years. I’ve had it six days, whereas I usually hold onto Netflix discs for one day. I’ve had to push myself to finish it, as it is so horrific, so beyond comprehension that the human mind wants to reject it outright. It’s like watching the aftermath of Auschwitz, with more detail, and more culpability on the part of the world at large.
Shake Hands With the Devil is Canadian General Romeo Dallaire’s story of the UN’s failure in its Rwanda peace keeping mission, 1994. It started off odd, the story of a white man in a black genocide. But as it evolved, the overwhelming horror of reality surpasses anything concocted in formulaic Hollywood scare fests.
The UN was the only force that could have prevented the genocide of Tutsis (800,000 killed). Dallaire saw it as a moral imperative to stay and to do everything in his power to minimize the violence. His mission was undercut by the UN and the nations who could have sent reinforcements and supplies, but chose not to. The mission was abandoned, left for dead. The genocide was written off, and the Rwandan people abandoned. This was a case where outside intervention could have been moral and justified and effective.
Dallaire cites the Belgian government’s policies, under their colonial rule, of dividing the ethnic factions of Rwanda and exacerbating ethnic tensions. This history is given some cursory attention in the film, perhaps more in the book on which it is based. Belgian troops were present as part of the UN force under Dallaire’s command. After ten of them were captured and executed by the Rwandan government death squads, the Belgians pulled their entire contingent out. No other countries were willing to send in peace keepers.
This case exposes the hypocrisy of Western powers who preach “humanitarian war.” They have used this false doctrine as a justification for attacking target nations where they wanted certain outcomes. In a case like Rwanda, where there were no readily-identifiable Western strategic aims, the western nations abandon the civilians to chaos and genocide.