Of Genocides and Journalism Students

I know I haven’t been writing a lot this week… I’m percolating. I suspect it’ll bubble up for you in the next few days.

Tonight I’m just reposting something I wrote on my other blog 18 months ago. I was trying to find something else and happened upon it and thought, “Fuck. And the genocide is ongoing, even now,” in Darfur, so, I thought I’d use my little soapbox here for this cause.

Darfur is a genocide. We, the world, need to step in and stop it. Sudan needs to be overruled, and we need to say “Not on our watch.” People don’t die, shouldn’t die, on our watch.

I wrote this 18 months ago and yet it is still current? What a fucking travesty. We’re better than that.


I am reading a harrowing account of the atrocities that transpired during 1994 (and beyond) in Rwanda. We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our familes: Stories From Rwanda is written by Philip Gourevitch.

This book, this depressing, morbid, tragic, bitter, woeful book, evokes much of what has always made me want to be a writer. I’ve always wanted to be the travelling kind of writer. I write well of cultures and differences. I’m observant. I notice the ways and means in which we all differ, but, more importantly, I sense the ways in which we are all the same. When speaking, I can’t do any of it justice. I’m sure I’ve sounded racist more than once, but it’s a crying shame if that’s how it seems. Sigh. Travelling and writing don’t yet seem to be in the cards. I’m sure that hand’s to be dealt sometime, though, and when it is, I’ll pounce.

A particular passage struck me like a brick this morning, in which Gourevitch is setting the scene to make us understand just how a genocide must be orchestrated — like any dance or wedding or ceremony, the execution of such an undertaking must be done meticulously. And most importantly, must be an easily sold concept that one can convince hundreds of thousands, if not more, to become a willing part of. Genocide doesn’t happen because a few guys had some beers and wanted to off a few folk they disagreed with. Genocide happens en masse because a message has been bought and sold by the masses, and a fit-in-or-fuck-off mentality has been adopted nearly universally by one party versus the other. But I fumble, and Gourevitch explained it all so succinctly. Here’s his words:

But mass violence, too must be organized; it does not occur aimlessly. Even mobs and riots have a design, and great and sustained destruction requires great ambition. It must be conceived as the means toward achieving a new order, and although the idea behind that new order may be criminal and objectively very stupid, it must also be compellingly simple and at the same time absolute.

Too true. Simple, yet absolute.

One wonders, then, if it’s so simple and so absolute that it simply can’t be sold as a news story. I mean, “They don’t like them, and never have, therefore they’re killing them by the hundreds of thousands” just doesn’t seem to work when you tack it onto African place names like, oh, say, Rwanda or, say, Darfur. I mean, it’s such a dull story. Or is it?

I’m only 50 pages into this book, but it’s hitting an awful lot of chords within. It reminds me, too, that I like to read books on aspects of history. Not vast, expansive books that cover countries and such, but books on topics that ultimately seem only a footnote in humanity’s tome. Like King Leopold’s Ghosts or The Nutmeg Wars or To What End?

Y’know, I went into the journalism program at the age of 17, dreaming idly of being a foreign correspondent. I would have loved the danger and excitement of that life. The movie Welcome to Sarajevo evoked a lot for me in that vein, so does any rivetting moment of correspondence I see. I never had the confidence or courage to pursue it, though. I’ll always regret that, and I have few regrets. I would have liked to be the person on the ground that finds the stories the rest of the world absolutely needs to hear. It would have been amazing to be that little footnote in the story, the person who the story’s not about, but who birthed it.

Gourevitch wasn’t even on the ground when the killings came down. The world didn’t even notice, really, as 800,000 people were killed — most by hand, with machetes, to save money — in less than 100 days. Gourevitch saw scattered news stories, and then, when all the dust began to settle, went to the country with a couple Canadian soldiers and tried to make sense of all that had happened. Of course, I’m sure he’ll find the truth, that there is no sense. There seldom is.

And that’s why the media can’t sell us on Darfur. It’s why nobody wants to get involved. How do you solve a problem that defies sense? How do you propose a solution when the problem itself is barely intelligible?

“Look. They’re dying. A lot of them. All the time. It doesn’t stop. Women, raped. Children, orphaned, killed. Men, slaughtered. No one, safe. Nothing to do. No way to stop. Help, please.”

We would rather ignore it and believe it’s impossible, a figment of our overworked, deluded imaginations. It’s a twist to that old conundrum: If a scream is ignored, did it ever really happen?

I don’t know how the media can make people care about Darfur. It has become apparent to me that it’s not the governments’ inaction about the slaughter in Sudan that’s the problem, it’s that the media doesn’t know how to make the public care. Or maybe it’s that we’re so hell-bent on having nice, digestible news so we don’t upset our tummies as we chow down on tacos in front of the telly. I don’t know. But I blame society for ignoring it.

There’s a scene in Hotel Rwanda that made me physically ill. They’re driving on a bumpy road in dense fog native to the area, and it becomes impassable. They get out only to find out the bumps are corpses, not potholes, and that the road is now a mass grave.

We wish to inform you tells of how the rare survivors managed to stay alive in the jungles. They’d look in the air for hordes of vultures and other scavenging birds — signs a massacre had taken place below. They’d steer clear, they’d stay alive. Only just.

If you feel like an ass for never giving a shit about the fact that 300,000-400,000 people are dead and 2.5 million are displaced, and the West has done nothing, nothing at all, then you can go here and sign a petition for the powers that be to do something. Of course the Sudanese government doesn’t want aid organizations or NGOs of any kind there. So? They’re abetting a systematic slaughter — what the hell do they know, eh? Maybe there’s no solution to this Darfur Problem. But I think the firepower needs a little evening out, to say the least. If it’s a numbers game, then let’s jack up the underdog, then, shall we?