Do you think you have had a bad day? Probably you have. But you might want to think again once you read Jean Hatzfeld’s book ‘A Time for Machetes: The Rwandan Genocide – The Killers Speak‘.
If you are interested in the antecedents and aftermath of the Rwandan genocide then you can find countless studies, both academic and popular publications, introducing the events from the survivors’ perspective or giving political, economic and social background of the many troubled years of the country. Despite the huge amount of information available about the pogroms, there are not too many sources that give us the viewpoint of those who committed the murders en masse. I have even met a handful of survivors in person who all emphasized the importance of forgiveness but I have never read accounts of the killers in this quantity and quality that I found in Jean Hatzfeld’s book.
Jean Hatzfeld is a war correspondent and a journalist that becomes obvious when you start reading his book even if you don’t know anything about his professional life. He doesn’t follow a chronological order but provides short chapters organized according to certain topics. This might be confusing at the start especially for those who do not have much information about the 1994-events and those that preceeded them. Only from about the 60th page we start receiving details that help to place the interviews in to a bigger picture. The author made interviews with a group of killers on the courtyard of the prison where they had been sentenced for a few years or a life. Despite their very confined situation and what they did, there is not much remorse coming through the discussions. Rather the opposite – as we all tend to blame others or the circumstances when we made the wrong choice, they also blame the actual leadership and atmosphere of the country arguing that there was no other option than going to the bog, exactly as if it was a 9 to 5 job, and eliminate the Tutsis as quickly and effectively as possible. They say that noone can understand them who was not there. They only did what they were asked to do and they are looking forward to returning to their previous life once released from prison.
I do not have many memories from my childhood and young adulthood that I can relate to watching TV simply because we lived the privileged life of those who spent their time outside playing and discovering the same streets day by day. However, two news headlines stayed with me. One of them was about the Rwandan massacre when the pictures showed an area where the roads and trenches were absolutely covered by human bodies. I was 16 that year and I do not think I was able to grasp the situation but after 20 years I still remember those images. I still find it absolutely unbelievable that despite the fact that foreign authorities knew about what is going to happen, all they did was rescuing their workers and representatives then withdrew most corps that might have had the power of forestalling the events. And a little later they sent their reporters to help us shudder a little during our afternoon tea.
I also cannot believe how far people can go from sheer greed that was a very important element of the killings. Day after day the Hutu went to slaughter their Tutsi neighbours and old friends then finishing at around 4pm they started looting to secure their own future. The Hutu participants have probably never had a life before like they had during these months. Food was plenty, the future looked bright and rich, they hardly ever considered the consequences of what they were doing. The result of this April to July period was the mass murder of an estimated 500.000-1.000.000 Rwandans, Tutsis and moderate Hutus alike, 20% of the country’s population, and many years of struggle for generations to come. Twenty years has gone since the genocide but its effects are still clearly felt in the Rwandan society.
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