Thu, 31 Mar 2005
What does it say about Warren’s and my shallowness that the first thing we discussed coming out of Hotel Rwanda last night was the lead actress’ enormous head? Kissing Don Cheadle, who played her husband, she looked like a giantess preparing to devour a small child.
Somehow Warren had Don Cheadle confused with former Saturday Night Live regular Tim Meadows, star of The Ladies Man. This led to a discussion of the character’s catchphrase, “Let’s go back to my place and do it up the butt”, which for some reason never caught fire in the manner of “Could it be…Satan?” or “I’m getting verklempt”. Meanwhile in Rwanda a million skeletons rolled over in their mass-graves.
Hotel Rwanda is a pretty pedestrian movie, but a useful history lesson. Nick Nolte plays a character loosely based on Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, in charge of the UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda, who had to sit back and watch the slaughter while in Washington and at the UN the bureaucrats dickered about the precise meaning of the word “genocide”. In the end the Hutu militias were swept aside by a badly-equipped rabble of ethnic Tutsi insurgents, which raises the question of how little effort it would have taken to suppress the violence if the western powers had bothered to intervene. How much firepower do you need to intimidate a gang of hooligans in Hawaiian shirts and purple fright wigs, most of them armed only with machetes? A few thousand soldiers, maybe? A couple helicopters? But western leaders allowed themselves to be terrorised by images of African anarchy, and wouldn’t risk even that much involvement. As Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once said to Colin Powell, when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and she was trying to convince him to send troops on some far-flung humanitarian mission that he regarded as excessively risky: “What’s the point of having this superb military if we’re not ever allowed to use it?”
I don’t really understand international politics and the rules of getting involved. Was it a civil war, was it a genocide, I don’t know.
The lesson of Hotel Rwanda – and surely the only reason a movie like this exists is to convey a lesson – is that common moral sense ought to supersede the “rules of getting involved”. The emotional high point of the movie, for my money, was the scene where the UN blue helmets finally manage to load the Tutsi refugees onto a truck and drive them toward “safety”. But the Hutu militias are waiting. As the truck approaches, the mob marches forward, menacingly scraping their machetes along the asphalt. It looks like it’s gonna be ugly. Then in the background you notice a few armed figures lurking in the trees, and they suddenly spring up and start firing on the Hutus. It’s the Tutsi rebel forces, and you think, Finally someone’s doing something besides talking. Perhaps it would’ve been too heavy-handed, but if I’d directed the movie, at this point I would have cut to a scene of the UN Security Council simultaneously debating Motion 59431: A Resolution Strongly Condemning Ethnic Conflict in Central Africa. The Chinese ambassador rises and says, “Before proceeding, we have to consider the ramifications to state sovereignty and international law.” The other ambassadors nod sombrely.
I thought Hotel Rwanda was really sad, not only because it happened then, but because it is happening again now in Darfur, but no-one has reacted any differently this time.
I was gonna say something about Darfur, but I thought the reference would reflect poorly on me. After all, what am I doing about injustice in the world except running my mouth off? I frequently sneer at hippies and their misguided principles – and I happen to believe that many of their aims, i.e. peace and general prosperity, are likeliest to be achieved by following the exact opposite of their prescriptions – but nevertheless, at least they’re out marching and making a ruckus and signing petitions and drawing attention to their causes. That’s something.
But where are the liberal interventionist rallies? Why aren’t Send-Troops-to-Sudan petitions circulating through my email box all day long? Last April you couldn’t turn a corner without tripping over a hundred hippies burning George W. Bush in effigy. Why isn’t there a similar mass movement to stand up for Darfur?
If hundreds of thousands of people were being killed by a sinister Dutch conglomerate, or by the American army, there would be mass protests up and down the University Bridge every day. Why does the Sudanese government get off so easy?
I think it’s because hippies – the natural constituency to support humanitarian interventions – have become so reflexively pacifistic that they reject any action that might require shooting and killing someone, even if other lives might be directly saved by doing so. So long as they’re advocating non-violence, hippies will march until their feet bleed. But when non-violent resistance is manifestly not getting the job done, as in Darfur, they’re stymied. They have no backup strategy. So they head home and watch their Michael Moore DVDs, and the petitions never get circulated, and nothing gets done.
Notice how I start out talking about my own shortcomings and end by picking on hippies? What’s my problem?