Lies About Rwanda Mean More Wars If Not Corrected

Urge the ending of war these days and you’ll very quickly hear two words: “Hitler” and “Rwanda.”  While World War II killed some 70 million people, it’s the killing of some 6 to 10 million (depending on who’s included) that carries the name Holocaust. Never mind that the United States and its allies refused to help those people before the war or to halt the war to save them or to prioritize helping them when the war ended — or even to refrain from letting the Pentagon hire some of their killers. Never mind that saving the Jews didn’t become a purpose for WWII until long after the war was over.  Propose eliminating war from the world and your ears will ring with the name that Hillary Clinton calls Vladimir Putin and that John Kerry calls Bashar al Assad.

Get past Hitler, and shouts of “We must prevent another Rwanda!” will stop you in your tracks, unless your education has overcome a nearly universal myth that runs as follows.  In 1994, a bunch of irrational Africans in Rwanda developed a plan to eliminate a tribal minority and carried out their plan to the extent of slaughtering over a million people from that tribe — for purely irrational motivations of tribal hatred.  The U.S. government had been busy doing good deeds elsewhere and not paying enough attention until it was too late.  The United Nations knew what was happening but refused to act, due to its being a large bureaucracy inhabited by weak-willed non-Americans.  But, thanks to U.S. efforts, the criminals were prosecuted, refugees were allowed to return, and democracy and European enlightenment were brought belatedly to the dark valleys of Rwanda.

Something like this myth is in the minds of those who shout for attacks on Libya or Syria or the Ukraine under the banner of “Not another Rwanda!”  The thinking would be hopelessly sloppy even if based on facts.  The idea that SOMETHING was needed in Rwanda morphs into the idea that heavy bombing was needed in Rwanda which slides effortlessly into the idea that heavy bombing is needed in Libya.  The result is the destruction of Libya.  But the argument is not for those who pay attention to what was happening in and around Rwanda before or since 1994.  It’s a momentary argument meant to apply only to a moment.  Never mind why Gadaffi was transformed from a Western ally into a Western enemy, and never mind what the war left behind.  Pay no attention to how World War I was ended and how many wise observers predicted World War II at that time.  The point is that a Rwanda was going to happen in Libya (unless you look at the facts too closely) and it did not happen.  Case closed.  Next victim.

Edward Herman highly recommends a book by Robin Philpot called Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa: From Tragedy to Useful Imperial Fiction, and so do I.  Philpot opens with U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s comment that “the genocide in Rwanda was one hundred percent the responsibility of the Americans!”  How could that be?  Americans are not to blame for how things are in backward parts of the world prior to their “interventions.”  Surely Mr. double Boutros has got his chronology wrong.  Too much time spent in those U.N. offices with foreign bureaucrats no doubt.  And yet, the facts — not disputed claims but universally agreed upon facts that are simply deemphasized by many — say otherwise.

The United States backed an invasion of Rwanda on October 1, 1990, by a Ugandan army led by U.S.-trained killers, and supported their attack on Rwanda for three-and-a-half years.  The Rwandan government, in response, did not follow the model of the U.S. internment of Japanese during World War II, or of U.S. treatment of Muslims for the past 12 years.  Nor did it fabricate the idea of traitors in its midst, as the invading army in fact had 36 active cells of collaborators in Rwanda.  But the Rwandan government did arrest 8,000 people and hold them for a few days to six-months.  Africa Watch (later Human Rights Watch/Africa) declared this a serious violation of human rights, but had nothing to say about the invasion and war.  Alison Des Forges of Africa Watch explained that good human rights groups “do not examine the issue of who makes war.  We see war as an evil and we try to prevent the existence of war from being an excuse for massive human rights violations.”

The war killed many people, whether or not those killings qualified as human rights violations.  People fled the invaders, creating a huge refugee crisis, ruined agriculture, wrecked economy, and shattered society.  The United States and the West armed the warmakers and applied additional pressure through the World Bank, IMF, and USAID.  And among the results of the war was increased hostility between Hutus and Tutsis.  Eventually the government would topple.  First would come the mass slaughter known as the Rwandan Genocide.  And before that would come the murder of two presidents.  At that point, in April 1994, Rwanda was in chaos almost on the level of post-liberation Iraq or Libya.

One way to have prevented the slaughter would have been to not support the war.  Another way to have prevented the slaughter would have been to not support the assassination of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi on April 6, 1994.  The evidence points strongly to the U.S.-backed and U.S.-trained war-maker Paul Kagame — now president of Rwanda — as the guilty party.  While there is no dispute that the presidents’ plane was shot down, human rights groups and international bodies have simply referred in passing to a “plane crash” and refused to investigate.

A third way to have prevented the slaughter, which began immediately upon news of the presidents’ assassinations, might have been to send in U.N. peacekeepers (not the same thing as Hellfire missiles, be it noted), but that was not what Washington wanted, and the U.S. government worked against it.  What the Clinton administration was after was putting Kagame in power.  Thus the resistance to calling the slaughter a “genocide” (and sending in the U.N.) until blaming that crime on the Hutu-dominated government became seen as useful.  The evidence assembled by Philpot suggests that the “genocide” was not so much planned as erupted following the shooting down of the plane, was politically motivated rather than simply ethnic, and was not nearly as one-sided as generally assumed.

Moreover, the killing of civilians in Rwanda has continued ever since, although the killing has been much more heavy in neighboring Congo, where Kagame’s government took the war — with U.S. aid and weapons and troops —  and bombed refugee camps killing some million people.  The excuse for going into the Congo has been the hunt for Rwandan war criminals.  The real motivation has been Western control and profits.  War in the Congo has continued to this day, leaving some 6 million dead — the worst killing since the 70 million of WWII.  And yet nobody ever says “We must prevent another Congo!”

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  • paul

    Wow. What a stunning screed. Why is this Democratic Party Stooge getting such a platform here on this blog? DOES HE NOT HAVE ENOUGH PLATFORMS IN THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY HACKIVERSE? I think he damn well does.

    I don’t care to defend Nader per se. I don’t like him. So far as I can tell, Nader is not marxist, though he might be a closet authoritarian, but he is certainly, it seems, a massive ego on wheels. However, Nader’s stated reason for running has been that he seeks to inject neglected issues into campaigns, into the political discourse. Everything this Democratic Party Stooge writes about is perfectly compatible with that stated intent, including even a possible desire to punish Democrats; many commentators have pointed out that one of the problems for the progressive movement is that the corporatist ‘center’ of the Democratic party feels all too free to ignore progressives and progressive concerns, not to even mention lefties and their concerns.

    This screeching stooge-written text isn’t really about Nader at all, that’s quite plain. This writer even makes the insane claim that the two party system’s already brutal rule should be ensconced in the Constitution!! It’s not enough that the two parties have rigged things so that it’s almost impossible for anyone outside their system to run; this hack declares that it must be made truly impossible for anyone outside the system to run. Then we will have a lovely world where everyone will be forced into one side or the other, of a predefined system. This system will naturally take into account, it is to be supposed, of any truly important issues or concerns, and will – one presumes – safely discard any wild-haired crazies, who are probably all marxist-leninists anyway, really just a bunch of moaning nihilists.

    The hubris of this Democratic Party Stooge is staggering, isn’t it? It’s not enough to blame Nader and the Green Party for Democratic Party woes; the very Constitution itself must be bent to preserve the interests of the almighty Party. This Democratic Party stooge is really calling for a scorched earth system of politics, a completely closed circle of rulership. This, in his view, will include all rational people. Everyone else is an irrationalist, it would seem.

    Let’s just remember that the single greatest achievement in American political history, the ending of slavery, was brought about by a third party. That alone makes it clear that a two party system should never, ever be mandated by our constitution.

    I don’t defend the Green Party anymore than I defend Nader. The Greens don’t seem to run to win. Trying to inject issues just isn’t enough, yet it seems to be enough for the Greens. We should not oppose third parties generally, though. We should oppose third parties that are not serious about winning. Being serious about winning does not, of course, mean being on the verge of winning. It takes time to build the basis for winning campaigns. One has to start at the ground level, and one has to do a lot of losing. This is a process that progressives and lefties should devote themselves most passionately to now. The Democratic Party Stooge claims that a progressive process can only be done within the Democratic Party. Yeah, well he WOULD claim that, right? I’m sure Daily Kos loves the guy. But the shoe should be on the other foot. Progressives and lefties should be willing to support truly progressive Democrats, as progessives and lefties build an alternative to the Democratic Party. I think that a supermajority of people in this country have basically the same views, which are mostly progressive. They are waiting for a party that will articulate their views in a way they can relate to, a party that will also act on them, consistently and forcefully. That is not the Democratic Party. If, in the process of building a REAL progressive political alternative the Democratic Party is redeemed, well then, perhaps we can work with that. That’s hard to envision right now, but it’s not a possibility that should be dismissed out of hand, the way this Democratic Party Stooge dismisses third party efforts out of hand, with great venom, and a strong desire to shut the door.

    This nasty Democratic Party Stooge derides anyone who disagrees with his views, essentially, as seeking the perfect and not the real. How staggeringly arrogant that is, yet it is very typical Democratic Party talking point material, as is everything this stooge spits out. What’s really real is that ‘leastworsting’ is a defensible strategy for a few elections, but when it is extended election after election after election after election, it isn’t a strategy at all. It’s nothing but surrender, with a little bit of face-saving to decorate it. Everyone knows by now how the game works. As an election approaches, the Democratic Party leadership makes a few progressive moves, which the party operatives then use to convince the masses that there is a real choice; even if the Democrats are bad, the Pubs are worse, and besides, WE’LL HOLD THEIR FEET TO THE FIRE ONCE THEY ARE IN OFFICE. But first, let’s all get together, hold our noses, and vote the lesser evil into office. Then, as soon as the election is over, they tell us that we have to give the creeps we elected a chance. By the time frustration with the ‘least worst’ pols begins to build to a crescendo, it’s time for another election and the cycle magically renews! Nader supporters may be gullible, but those who sell this least-worst deathspiral as pragmatism are something far far worse than gullible.

    SO WHY DOES THIS BLOG CHOOSE TO GIVE SUCH A PERSON THIS PEDESTAL? For God’s sake, let him go be a superstar at Daily Kos. Let him make his burning contributions to Talking Points Memo, or whatever. Why does this blog need to prove ‘objectivity’ by spouting views that get far too much play already? The fact that Dems are still barking about the 2000 election, trying to make the case the third parties are responsible for their weakness is really telling. Even more telling is the fact that this stooge attacks Nader for the one good thing he did, which was to bring attention to electoral cheating, in particular involving voting machines. Conyers also did this in 2004. I guess Conyers too is a closet marxist-fascist-leninist-nihilist-evil person….

    We need to build an alternative to the current system, where two parties dominated by Big Money interests play good cop bad cop election after election, and we are summoned to applaud when ‘our guys’ are in power, and to hoot and holler when the ‘other guys’ are in power. We need to take that work seriously and waste no time on promoting partisan screeds like this one.

    • goingnowherefast

      Um, I totally agree with your take on Eric Zuess’ screed, but you posted your comment on an article about Rwanda by David Swanson. Just wanted to tell you so you can direct your well articulated comment where Eric and others will see it.

      • Griebel

        Hehe, yeah, that’s one fantastic cannon shot, but, eh, yeah, it’s landing in the wrong field.

  • Interesting Coincidence

    Good article. One other point of context: the Tutsi aristocracy and elite had long formed a comprador class which exploited the agricultural Hutus and lower class Tutsi, at the behest of the Belgian colonialists, over a period of decades. Western imperialism in Africa set the stage for a mass wave of cathartic violence, and then western imperialism forced the blade to drop. This is not to excuse or apologize for any crimes committed by the Hutus but to provide important context as to the historical factors leading to the mass violence.