I’ve written posts about Canadians I admire; Tommy Douglas, Neil Young, even Stompin Tom Connors. It’s much easier to write about those we admire than someone we consider a hero. Admiration is subjective, open to opinion, unfettered by titles or designation. Once admiration is surpassed by “hero” there is some explaining to do; with hero comes responsibility.
Unfazed, I’ll ponder on – Romeo Dallaire is a Canadian hero. Romeo who?
General Romeo Dallaire headed the United Nations peacekeeping efforts in Rwanda from 1993 – 94. His meagre peacekeeping force of 3000 soldiers where forbidden under terms of the UN peacekeeping mandate to take up arms, or be anything other than a presence. Desperate for help, Dallaire begged the UN to send 2000 more soldiers. Instead the UN cut his force to 500 soldiers following the murder of 10 Belgian peacekeepers assigned to protect the president.In the days that followed Dallaire’s forces witnessed the extermination of 800,000 Rwandan men, women, and children in the most horrific genocide in modern history.
Dallaire wrote of the horror he witnessed in a 2004 book called Shake Hands With the Devil. I’ve tried to read it two or three times; I have to put it down – I find myself weeping uncontrollably, his story too much to take. Despite odds stacked against him, Dallaire managed to save thousands of Rwandans; he will go to his grave despairing over those he couldn’t help.
“I had one person come in to my headquarters during the genocide asking statistics on how many people were killed last week and how many yesterday and how many do you expect to be killed today and how many weeks of this killing you think is going to go on. And my staff officers brought him to me and I said, “Why these statistics?”
He said, “Oh, you know my country is assessing whether it will come in and the government believes that the people, the public opinion, could handle for every soldier killed or injured an equivalent of 85,000 dead Rwandans.”
Think about that response for a moment – collateral damage deemed acceptable at 85,000 Rwandans for every UN soldier.
Romeo Dallaire was a soldier; a man of conscience who followed orders despite the toll it would take on himself and his men.
“The impact of the trauma of Rwanda had physically affected my brain and had put me in a state where there was no capability left of any desire for life, any desire to even consider life. I was even debating whether I should exist as I held on my shoulders, and still today, the belief that as commander of the mission in Rwanda I had failed the Rwandans. I had failed in my duty as the UN mission commander to assist the Rwandans to be able to move to a peaceful application of democracy in a rather short period of time.
Dallaire suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and attempted suicide in 2004. That same year he testified at an international human rights tribunal against Rwandan Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, who was convicted of genocide. Has worked as an advisor to the Canadian government on War Affected Children, and prohibiting small arms distribution. In 2005 he was appointed to the Senate. 2006 saw Concordia University name him a Senior Fellow at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies. An advocate for soldiers mental health issues, Dallaire is open and outspoken about PTSS. Dallaire researches and lectures on conflict resolution and child soldiers.
“Are all humans human or some more human than others?” – Romeo Dallaire
Romeo Dallaire is a Canadian hero. A man few have even heard of who personifies decency and strength. Nick Noltes portrayal of Dallaire in the movie Hotel Rwanda barely scratches the surface of Dallaire’s bungled Rwandan nightmare. Dallaire and his 500 UN soldiers couldn’t have prevented the genocide -we’ll never know another outcome if the UN had responded to his pleas, or the world had bothered to notice.Romeo Dallaire is a hero because he never gave up, overcame his demons, and strives to make a difference in this mixed up world.