Book of the Week: Shake Hands with the Devil
In the current volatile political climate, it is important to look back at history to avoid repeating past tragic mistakes. Since Trump’s election, we have seen a growing sense of tension, escalating violence against minorities, and feelings of division. Since the Republican Party’s spate of proposed bills making significant cuts to funding for the poor, the environment, health care, and education, not to mention Trump’s executive orders restricting immigration for nationals of specific countries, it is pertinent to re-examine the historical effects of division.
Shake Hands With the Devil by Roméo Dallaire gives us insight into the devastating consequences of US vs them mentalities, and media fueled stoking of racial divides. Despite being a long read, Dallaire effectively draws you into his world as force commander of the UN mission to Rwanda. He gives a full, unfiltered examination of the events that lead to the Rwandan genocide, and how it led to the destabilization of the whole region. By the end of his account he has painted a stark picture of his own personal failures, the failures of the United Nations (UN), and the manipulation by the member states involved that allowed the conflict to continue.
His analysis of the workings of the UN remain valid to this day, as recently, Rima Khalaf was pressured to resign from her post as the executive secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia after writing a report criticizing Israel. Dallaire warns against how the structure of the UN’s security council can allow countries to manipulate crises for their own political games.
The book has other significant merits besides the wider political lessons that can be extracted from this account. Dallaire’s narrative abilities are truly capturing. The book is more than just his story of his time in Rwanda, but a vast memoir that takes us through the important and formative moments of his life that led him, in one way or another, to Rwanda. Dallaire is a master of storytelling, and the novel grips you. You feel his helplessness and desperation to do what he can to help who he can as he slowly realizes how constrained his mission truly is. The story is captivating, harrowing, emotional, gritty, and realistic. Contrary to many books framed around military interventions, Dallaire does not romanticize or glorify violence or military action. The story is touching and unforgettable, and shows readers how quickly situations can turn brutal when conflicting parties feel desperate and wronged.