Romeo Who?

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.

13 thoughts on “Romeo Who?

  1. About this…

    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.

    I read the original version and then the French translation comparing the two in a translation course at the university in 2005. I have to agree that it was hard to read… It was unbelievable to see how the U.N. acted. But then there was oil in Rwanda…

  2. Pingback: Justin Trudeau | notestoponder

  3. I had forgotten I wrote a comment about this post. This puts more into perspective my comment left about Justin Trudeau.

    • I’ve followed the bouncing comment trail and am able to make sense of your position.It would take much more than different perspectives on Justin Trudeau to alter my regard for your character and insight. 🙂

      Since I wrote that post on Trudeau I’ve had time to digest my opinion. I’m not leading a cavalry charge in the name of Trudeau as much as I believe he offers an about face from Harper’s shady reign. I wrote the post following the first speech Trudeau made – I heard idealistic (perhaps naïve) statements addressing the Conservative governments disregard and tampering with the Canada I used to know.

      With zero trust in our current leader, what harm is there in taking a leap of faith and betting on a new approach? Canada is a special country – one that used to stand for fairness, equality and tolerance.

      The Conservative party is hell bent on swaying Canadians from faith in Trudeau. Their aggressive attack ads (paid for with our tax dollars) make me hurl. Trudeau is young, inexperienced – who cares -at least he hasn’t spent decades in the “old boy” network.

      If ever you find yourself in Vancouver – I would be honoured to meet you in person.

  4. I was afraid our mutual virtual friendship had been irreparably damaged in my latest comment about Justin…

    Thank God (if he or she exists) this did not happen.

    About Vancouver…

    Notestoponder, I was in Vancouver in 1976!
    Where were you?
    We’ve missed!

    My wife and I had gotten married in early June, and we had decided to skip the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. and go for our honeymoon on a camping trip from Quebec to the Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island in our brand-new 1976 Toyota Corolla Station Wagon.

    Image of same car with the same colour and wood trim…

    A most memorable two-month trip.

    While in Vancouver for 12 days, it rained most of the time. All my camera equipment was stolen in Stanley Park. I had left it in the car!

    On our way home, while visiting Yellowstone Park, I was driving slowly enjoying the scenery when a squirrel crossed the road. I slammed on the brakes for the little creature, and was rear-ended by another car. The tail door was damaged as well as the two rear doors which could not be opened to reach our camping stuff…

    We came back to Quebec in just four days staying at different Holiday Inns, making some quick pit stops, one being at the Indianapolis Race Track and the other at Niagara Falls to see the falls for 15 minutes which made my wife mad.

    All in all a wonderful trip.

    About Justin, he seems so unreal as a politician he has to be an alien. As a footnote to all this, I can feel your dispair about politics and the all out rage that transpires on your blog sometimes. I feel the same way about ALL politicians except Rob Ford who I consider a clown…

  5. I remember reading General Dallaire’s book several years ago and very moving it was.

    What stands out as a memory for me of the UN’s Rwanda mission was the lackluster counseling and psychological help the Canadian military provided to the soldiers when they got back.

    CFB Edmonton was fully under army jurisdiction by then and there was an incident of a locally based soldier driving his car through an office window on the base. It turned out he was exasperated with how little help and minimal counseling he was being given by the military for all he saw in Rwanda.

    I talked with one or two soldiers personally who had gone to Rwanda and they tried going to civilian counselors to compensate for what the military ones weren’t doing but the civilian ones gave up as the traumas those soldiers endured were beyond what the civilian counselors were trained to deal with.

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