One of the key themes I noticed during this reading was the role of blindness to see what was occurring. Many individuals who were involved were unwilling to admit that atrocities were occurring. This situation is common across many different genocides or mass murders. Most people don’t want to believe that they live in a world where individuals can commit such horrible acts of violence. As such, this pattern can also be seen in various other readings we’ve examined. During the Holocaust, many officials discounted initial reports of Nazi brutality, dismissing it as too fantastical. During the Rwandan genocide, many were reluctant to label it as a genocide, and preferred to attribute the atrocities to long-standing ethnic animosity. This pattern perhaps constitutes a defense mechanism. But while it may protect the individual, such thought processes bring risk of harm to countless others.
The other consideration that struck me was the influence of Soviet Communism. Pol Pot was inspired by China, who in turn was inspired by the Soviet Union. China even went so far as to adopt some of Russia’s industrialization and collectivization plans. It’s fascinating to consider how history would have turned out had Russia not undergone its revolution, and what repercussions may have occurred. But perhaps alternative histories wouldn’t be too drastically altered. After all, China and many Asian cultures have a more collectivist ideology, and perhaps would have naturally been drawn to a more collectivist government. Other potential historically influential events include the adoption of Communism by Vietnam, which greatly impacted Cambodian politics and history. Should any of these links been altered, the following events that transpired may have unraveled. Perhaps Pol Pot may never have come to power. Such considerations are fascinating to examine. While perhaps impractical at face value, examining these ideas forces us to view the bigger picture, and the connections between historical events and the causality that led to them.
Why is Pol Pot not known in American high schools?
Was the existence of S-21 politicized by the regime that replaced the Khmer Rouge?
Obviously many innocent people were detained and interrogated. Does this follow a philosophical ideal of the regime, safety over human rights?
I was intrigued by my own ignorance of Pol Pot’s life. My only previous exposure to the leader was when my old high school history teacher bought a fish and named it Pol Pot. She explained that Pol Pot was a Communist dictator, and thus a fitting replacement for the previous fish who had recently passed on (Karl Marx). Other than this informal event, I had no experience with Pol Pot. I had no idea which country he was associated with, when he lived, or what he did during his lifetime. After this reading, I began to question why Pol Pot is not better known in American high schools. I would postulate that its connected to the fact that high school history tends to be very American-centric. While the Cambodian atrocities are significant in the course of human events, it is not well connected to American policy and history. Its main connection comes in its form as small piece in the larger puzzle of the Cold War. I would also argue that it doesn’t fit the simplistic narratives that are easier to explain to adolescents. Murky gray areas of policy are hard to effectively illustrate. Many players committed terrible acts, and it is difficult to see exactly where the moral imperatives lie. Did the United States have an obligation to intervene? Would that create lasting change? Would it lead to a conflict similar to the interventions in Korea and Vietnam? Would the American public accept such action? These are difficult questions for anybody to attempt to answer, and most especially for young people. However, I would argue that ignoring these difficult questions is a greater disservice. Some of these questions can perhaps never be answered in a retrospective fashion. But that doesn’t mean that the questions should not be posed. Indeed, simply exposing adolescents to these difficult questions better prepares them for interactions in the “real world”, which is filled with gray areas and complex situations. As such, I would like to see more difficult topics, such as the events in Cambodia, be covered.
Does the complexity of the Congo Wars contribute to it being underreported/taught?
Does the number of ordinary civilians/militias involved reinforce the idea that any people/group can experience this violence under the right conditions?
Is corruption self-feeding/cyclical?
Dancing in the Glory of Monsters illustrates the complexity of violence associated with the Congo Wars. No party was completely devoid of bloodshed or blame. Each side felt victimized, and thus justified in their actions. As such, polarization became an easy trap in which to fall. Perhaps it is this complexity that contributed to the lack of coverage on the crisis. The media attempts to convey facts through the art of storytelling. But when the facts themselves are muddled, this becomes a very difficult feat to accomplish. Furthermore, a cohesive storyline requires clarity, which this conflict did not provide. The participants, their motives, and their relative morality were amorphous. No side could truly be labeled as “good” or “evil.”
Part of this was due to the number of ordinary civilians who were involved in the violence. Many took up arms themselves to form militias, blurring the line between civilian and soldier. Because the conflict did not take place solely within the confines of structured armies, it became difficult to separate the innocent from the guilty. The fact that so many “ordinary people” took part in this violence also adds credence to the possibility that any person or group can undertake mass violence under the right conditions. Such a possibility is extremely disturbing, and highlights our innate need to distance ourselves from such acts. Oftentimes perpetrators of horrendous crimes are described as “animals” or simply “not human”. This illustrates our tendency to psychologically distance ourselves from any similarity to those who conduct such violence, in an attempt to distinguish ourselves from the perpetrators. “He could do that, but not me, because he is not like me.” But the violence present in the Congo forces us to consider the possibility that anybody, under the right conditions, could become a part of mass violence.
Who holds a greater degree of responsibility-those who killed or those who organized killing?
Will it be possible for victims and perpetrators of the genocide to peacefully coexist?
Was it right for humanitarian aid to be the only form of international action to be occurring at “refugee camps” that housed fugitives?
This was an extremely engaging and reader-friendly text. One of the greatest contributors to this was the usage of numerous interviews and personal accounts from those involved in the documented events. These personalized the tragedy and underlined the human suffering involved. It humanized the incomprehensible statistics associated with the genocide to create a larger impact for the reader.
Furthermore, the amount of background provided was also extremely helpful to understanding the events that transpired. The causes were thoroughly outlined, explaining the colonial roots of current Hutu-Tutsi relations. The information helped demonstrate the Rwandan genocide was not a sporadic event, but the result of a carful calculations and a pattern of violence observed since Rwandan independence.
I also appreciated the coverage of the aftermath and recovery following the Rwandan genocide. What coverage and information I previously had been exposed to simply stopped following RPF advancements that ended the genocide. But the story continued, and Gourevitch covers it in all of its complexity. His coverage of the camps and the moral dilemmas associated with them was particularly engaging. Many shades of gray were observed within this crisis. Perpetrators of the genocide were intermingled with innocent civilians, and often used their position to use civilians as potential hostages. Perhaps most intriguing was the international response. While very little was done to alleviate the genocide itself, a great deal of aid was being sent to these camps, who often housed those who orchestrated the atrocities. Aid being sent to relieve human suffering (even of guilty parties) would not be as large of an issue if it was accompanied by concrete acts to separate and prosecute the perpetrators. But in isolation, these acts brought a greater sense of injustice to the crisis. Gourevitch displays a potential bias by underlining these ironies and largely presenting the side of Kagame (which provided a very pro-RPF view). However, this still provides an important perspective that acts as a counterbalance to the traditional coverage of the time (which often merely portrayed the camps as a humanitarian crisis).
Having now viewed this movie twice, I was particularly fascinated by the resourcefulness and cunning of Paul. He used all of the resources at his disposal to save others, whether that be through bribes of contacts (international, military, etc.). Even when he seemed to have little to no hope of survival, he continued to take actions that maximized chances of survival. This tenacity, and occasionally, shear stubbornness, was incredible. Negotiating successful with killers under such pressure seems nearly miraculous, especially doing so multiple times.
I also felt that the movie meshed very well with our Gourevitch reading. It was intriguing to see Paul’s story featured in both. It would be interesting to consider whether or not the movie would have been made without the publication of the book. Was it the book that brought attention to his story (which was prominently featured)? Perhaps the book was the gateway that allowed this story to be dramatized. This in itself is particularly fascinating since, in many cases, this is the sole exposure ordinary people of the Western world have had to the Rwandan genocide. I know watching this movie was the first time the genocide was truly presented to me, and perhaps this is true for others.
Finally, it is my belief that films such as this demonstrate some of the best that the movie industry offers. Dramatizations of historical events and figures is one of the greatest advantages of this medium. Unfortunately, much of history is too abstract for humans to truly imagine and comprehend. What does a million deaths look like? To many, it’s just a number. But providing a tangible story, with characters one can identify with, provides a means by which to evoke strong emotions in an audience. This is how one can bring a sense of injustice to the masses, explaining historical situations in ways people can understand, relate to, and absorb.