Frontline reportage from one of the world’s more recent genocides, as narrated by the foot soldiers who perpetrated it.
In the space of three months in 1994, some 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis were killed by compatriots from the Hutu tribe. The Nazis, observes Libération reporter Hatzfeld, were never so efficient, “never attained so murderous a performance level anywhere in Germany or its fifteen occupied countries.” The agents of that efficient death-dealing were ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events, and they threw themselves into their work, driven by several motives. Not least of the reasons, several of the now-imprisoned killers relate through the interviews collected here, is the simple fact that killing is easier than farming, more rewarding, with no discipline required; as one killer says, “Rule number one was to kill. There was no rule number two. It was an organization without complications.” Other of the perpetrators were driven by longstanding ethnic jealousy of the Tutsi, praised by early European ethnologists for their aristocratic features; one Rwandan remarks, for example, that considering parallels with the Shoah, “The Tutsis are not a people punished for the death of Jesus Christ. The Tutsis are simply a people come to misfortune on the hills because of their noble bearing.” Yet others were motivated by talk radio, which assured them that the Tutsis were cockroaches and snakes; remarks a killer, “The evil-mindedness of the radios was too well calculated for us to oppose it.” Most of the men relate that, whatever drove them, they felt very little guilt, very little of any emotion, as they were butchering Tutsis of whatever age or gender; only one or two admit to guilty memories or dreams after the fact, which prompts Hatzfeld to wonder whether it could be that “of all categories of war criminal, the perpetrator of genocide winds up the least traumatized.”
Of the utmost importance. A trove for future historians and ethnographers seeking to explain the mechanics of genocide, and eye-opening, sobering reading for the rest of us.