Monday, December 20, 2004

Rwanda film hits raw nerve for Clinton aide

Here is a copy of an interesting review dated December 20, 2004, by John Darnton of the new movie Hotel Rwanda:

In a pivotal scene in Hotel Rwanda the colonel in charge of a beleaguered UN peacekeeping force rushes to talk with the commanding officer of a fresh UN contingent that has just arrived at a hotel packed with refugees from the genocide outside its walls. The colonel, played by Nick Nolte, suddenly throws his blue beret on the ground in anger. The eyes of the hotel manager, played by Don Cheadle, slowly register concern, then fear. The truth becomes clear: the soldiers are there to evacuate the mostly white foreigners, leaving the black Rwandans to their fate.

"That gets to you - they were counting on the UN and they were abandoned," whispered Anthony Lake, as he watched the scene in an otherwise empty theatre. Lake, the national security advisor in the Clinton administration, played a role in determining US policy in Rwanda a decade ago, and he had agreed to attend the screening of a movie that, even before its release, is provoking uncomfortable memories of the collective failure by Western powers to confront an atrocity.

Hotel Rwanda, from MGMs United Artists unit, directed by Terry George, depicts the events of 1994, when Hutu extremists slaughtered some 800,000 of their countrymen. To deal with its burden of horror, the film searches out a bright spot. Like Schindler's List, it concentrates on a real-life hero, in this case Paul Rusesabagina, the manager of a luxury hotel in Kigali, who was able to save the lives of 1,268 people who took refuge in his hotel, the Milles Collines, including his Tutsi wife and their four children.

Lake requested two ground rules in agreeing to see and discuss the film: that he not be made to appear "self-serving or self-exculpatory" (a rule that tended to take care of itself), and that he be allowed to air his views on the current situations in Darfur in Sudan and in the eastern Congo. The loss of civilian life in those places, he believes, is a direct echo of the Rwandan genocide, and this time, he asserts, international powers should not sit idly by, as they have largely done to date.

In Rwanda, the United States did not simply not intervene. It also used its considerable power to discourage other Western powers from intervening. At the height of the carnage, when Belgium lost 10 peacekeepers, the United States demanded a total UN withdrawal. Some African countries objected, and eventually Washington settled for a severe cutback in the 2,500-man UN force. The commander of the force in Kigali, Maj. Gen. Romeo Dallaire of Canada, who had asked for 5,000 troops, was left with 270.

The withdrawal, Paul Rusesabagina noted, was a critical turning point. In an interview in New York, where he was promoting the film, he said it signalled to the Hutu militia, known as the Interahamwe, that their planned killing of Tutsis and moderate Hutus could continue unabated.

Lake, now a professor of international diplomacy at Georgetown University, said he had reviewed memos of the time in an attempt to reconstruct the government's position. The goal was not to "wallow in guilt," he said, but to understand why the slaughter in Rwanda registered so faintly in the Washington decision-making apparatus. "My retrospective anger and dismay is not that we made a wrong decision," he said, "but that we didn't make any decision."

Source courtesy:

Further reading: Netlex great post and pictures on "Films and the making sense of a genocide" dated December 21, 2004.

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