More than 800,000 dead in the space of months: the pen can be mightier than the sword indeed. And, as the critic F.L. Lucas observed, “though the tongue has no bones, it can break millions of them.”
The butchery in Rwanda ten years ago stunned the world—once the world got around to paying any attention to it, that is. But, writes Temple-Raston (A Death in Texas, 2002), anyone who had an ear to the ground there would have heard portentous murmurings long before: Hutus, the ethnic majority, were thirsting for revenge against the lighter-skinned, taller Tutsi minority, once the favorites of the colonial powers and now on their own. Whipping these murmurings into murder was the work of many leading citizens, among them a bilious history professor named Ferdinand Nahimana, who “found himself able to find the right words to reach the eager ears of ordinary Rwandans, men and women who were more characterized by action than reflection.” Nahimana, who with fellow political entrepreneur Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza launched the immensely popular Radio-Télévision des Mille-Collines, found words to make Goebbels jealous, castigating the Tutsi as “cockroaches” who merited only being squashed underfoot. Lesser media types such as Hassan Ngeze, a tabloid publisher who bragged that he had exclusive lines on the truth and certain knowledge of Tutsi plans to bedevil their Hutu neighbors, added to the din. None of these men lifted a machete or a gun, but, as Temple-Raston shows with admirable clarity, they killed hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens all the same and richly deserved the crimes-against-humanity tribunals that eventually found them. That process of justice, Temple-Raston writes in closing, is an important aspect of the healing that is now working its way through Rwanda a decade later—even though, one Hutu warns, “There will be another genocide.”
A useful update to Elizabeth Neuffer’s The Key to My Neighbor’s House (2001), Gérard Prunier’s The Rwanda Crisis (1995), Samantha Power’s “A Problem from Hell”(2002), and other studies of slaughter.