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Putting a price on human life...

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
I just finished reading "Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda" by Romeo Dallaire (he was leading the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda during the genocide in 1994)

There were a lot of disturbing things in this book. I think the phrase "Failure of Humanity" is a very good way of describing the genocide. It could have easily been prevented or stopped if other countries had been willing to help. Instead, 800,000 people died in just a few months and no one cared because they were just Africans.

But the part that disturbed me most was when the author describes his conversation with a US staff person who was trying to determine whether the US should help.
"He [the staff person] told me [the author] that his estimates indicated that it would take the deaths of 85,000 Rwandans to justify risking the life of one American soldier."

It really disgusts me that they would put such a low price on the life of people in Rwanda. Or that anyone could make that kind of cold calculation about the value of human life.

Don't get me wrong, I do think risking soldiers' lives is a very serious decision. No troops should ever be put at risk unless the benefits are worth it. What bothers me is that the only "benefits" that seem to be worth risking peoples' lives is self-interest. Saving people in poor countries from senseless deaths doesn't seem to be much of a concern to most governments (not just the US)

To be honest, I've never been a supporter of the military. But after reading this book, my opinion has changed somehow. I applaud the courage of the soldiers who were risking their lives to save others. That is probably the most noble thing a person can do. What still really bothers me about the military is that this is not what governments typically use it for. Economic self-interest or asserting one's control over another country seems a lot higher in most government's list of priorities.
post #2 of 22
That book sounds fascinating. And that comment that that US government staffer said about 85,000 Rawandan lives being equivalent to just one US soldier life was horrible and insensitive ....The genocide in Rawanda was horrible and senseless and yes, other countries that could have stepped in to help now have Rawandan blood on their hands .
post #3 of 22
Before being too critical, I would explore Dallaire's agenda.

It could be that he is just slightly biased against the US.

I have a problem with the US being the world's cop and the world's breadbasket when no one else seems to care.

Like right now, where is the sizeable African-American community's voice on the subject of helping out in Africa, and more to the point, where is their activism and their pocketbooks ?

I am not trying to be racist, but the facts are so glaring that sensible people cannot ignore them.

I think that the criteria for the US to offer help, either military or humanitarian, should be that 60% of the help come from neighboring nations, those close to the affected area, and when that help has been forthcoming and in place for at least 6 months, then and ONLY then would the US step in with its share, and if the neighbors DO NOT want to help, then I seriously question the wisdom of the US getting involved in any manner.

The media should bear a large portion of blame also, for they certainly don't have to travel 10,000 miles to get a picture of a hungry child with flies crawling in and out its mouth, the same picture is available in L.A., Appalachia, and Harlem.

Our actions should be calculated and sensible responses, not knee-jerk reactions that in many cases, turn out to be both imprudent and improvident.

Leonard.
post #4 of 22
I think a bit of the blame lies with the United Nations and its hesitancy to declare a conflict "genocide" right away. Darfur is a good case in point. Even when the UN gets involved, it doesn't manage to really do much - remember Srebrenica, and the Dutch peacekeepers?
I've been watching the "Live 8" concert(s) all day, and the "commercials" running in between acts are very sobering. Here we are in the 21st century, and people are still dying of hunger and preventable diseases. All the "first world" nations have to contribute more.

Quote:
Originally Posted by winwin
Like right now, where is the sizable African-American community's voice on the subject of helping out in Africa, and more to the point, where is their activism and their pocketbooks ?
Perhaps this is just a misunderstanding, but I fail to see why African-Americans should be expected to be activist about Africa. For the most part, their ancestors were "imported" between 1619 and 1808, when the importation of slaves was declared illegal in the U.S., so their families have been American far, far longer than is the case with, for example, people of southern or eastern European descent. What possible ties could there be with Africa nowadays?
Or were you talking about first or even second-generation African-Americans? I don't think their numbers could be called "sizable".
post #5 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by winwin
Before being too critical, I would explore Dallaire's agenda.

It could be that he is just slightly biased against the US.

I have a problem with the US being the world's cop and the world's breadbasket when no one else seems to care.

Like right now, where is the sizeable African-American community's voice on the subject of helping out in Africa, and more to the point, where is their activism and their pocketbooks ?

I am not trying to be racist, but the facts are so glaring that sensible people cannot ignore them.

I think that the criteria for the US to offer help, either military or humanitarian, should be that 60% of the help come from neighboring nations, those close to the affected area, and when that help has been forthcoming and in place for at least 6 months, then and ONLY then would the US step in with its share, and if the neighbors DO NOT want to help, then I seriously question the wisdom of the US getting involved in any manner.

The media should bear a large portion of blame also, for they certainly don't have to travel 10,000 miles to get a picture of a hungry child with flies crawling in and out its mouth, the same picture is available in L.A., Appalachia, and Harlem.

Our actions should be calculated and sensible responses, not knee-jerk reactions that in many cases, turn out to be both imprudent and improvident.

Leonard.
I didn't mean to single out the United States in all this. I don't think Dallaire did either. In his book, he seemed pretty unhappy about the US government (because they could have easily helped, they kept saying they would but ended up providing very little help) but his main point was that it was humanity as a whole who had failed to behave "humanely".

But I don't think anyone's responsiblity to help should depend on how close they are geographically to the people in need or whether they share a common ancestry. A human being who is suffering should be of concern to ALL other human beings.
Those who have more responsibility to help are those who are most able to help. This means western nations (including the US, Canada, etc.)

I also didn't mean to say that decisions should be based on emotions. Deciding to risk soldiers lives should be made rationally. However, the rationality should be based on good ethical values. As in "is action X likely to save more people than action Y?" rather than "is action X better for our own self-interest than action Y?"
post #6 of 22
I feel, as selfish as it sounds, that we need to solve the problems in our own country first before we go running around trying to save everyone else. I think what happened was terrible yes, we did an indepth case study in my sociology class, but we have so many people living in poverty at home, and so many people not affording their medications, so many without homes at all, poor schools, and one of the biggest national debts in history. If we dont look out for ourselves and make our country strong, then how are we expected to help other people. Its like they tell you when you are on a plane, put the air mask on yourself before you attempt to help anyone else.
post #7 of 22
Quote:
Before being too critical, I would explore Dallaire's agenda.
I had the great fortune to hear Dallaire speak about his time in Rwanda before the book came out.

His agenda is extremely clear. He was a Canadian Army General, assigned the job of leading UN forces in Rwanda. He soon realized that factions in the country were gearing up for war, and that the government was corrupt. As soon as it became clear that the UN mission was not just support, but that they may have to put down armed insurrections, the US pulled troops out of Rwanda. And he was told, in person by a US commander, that they could not "sell" the military mission at home if there was a risk to US soldier's lives. And that the US military calculated the number of foreign lives that had to be lost to justify military intervention that risked the lives of US soldiers.

Dallaire is extremely biased about this whole issue. He takes many other countries to task, not just the US. He suffered a complete breakdown after his time there. And that was because, no matter what he did, he could not get the UN to support the mission with better forces, and every day they delayed, thousands of Rwandans died. He even had a price on his head, and risked being killed every time he left his quarters.

The point, he makes, though is this. Is the value of human life not equal? How can one American (or Canadian, or Belgian, or British) life not be equal to the value of the life of one Rwandan? It is extremely unfortunate that it was a US military person who stated that fact, that a "first world" life is worth many more "third world" lives. But he was quoting directly, and that American has to take responsibility for stating the policy.

It was very interesting, in reading that book, to see that the UN really takes the brunt of his criticism, not the US or any other country.

I do find it very interesting, though, to watch the policy spin from the American military, in light of what Dallaire reports. There are huge numbers of US troops who daily risk their lives in Iraq. And just think, how is that risk justified at home? It is not just that the US is protecting the safety and security of a foreign country. It is that the US is protecting people at home from more terrorism. So, in the most cynical interpretation of things, they can "sell" the war at home, because the risk to the lives of US troops is justified, where it wasn't in Rwanda.
post #8 of 22
Two Points:
1) Blaming the UN is somewhat like blaming the car for the accident and not the driver. After all the resolutions that comes out stems from the countries and the UN does not have its own army.

2) Live 8
Many people like the concept of eliminating poverty and starvation. But when these poor nations start to develop and industrialise such that they produce goods that directly compete with domestic products or jobs then suddenly they become the bad guys. But often there is no other way.
post #9 of 22
I'm just putting my two cents worth, many of the countries give alot of money to africa every year.
I saw a documentary on TV a few weeks ago maybe even months, anyway that some of the governments in Africa dont distribute foods, they keep the money to get weapons.

Many people like me forget that africa isnt a country its a continent, and there are many countries in africa. ITS their governments that have to improve the way they manage their country.
post #10 of 22
The point about the UN is interesting. They don't have their own army, but they did authorize the terms of the mission to Rwanda. So the commander in chief of the UN forces (which are contributed by member countries) does have to answer to the UN security council. The reason that Dallaire places so much blame on the UN is that he repeatedly requested a broadening of his mandate, to include activities such as confiscating known arms caches, and he was repeatedly denied permission. He also speaks about how uncoordinated the whole force was, the UN received committment of army vehicles from a country, but no repair supplies to keep them on the road. And, the basic problem, he was provided with laughably few, untrained, inadequate forces.
post #11 of 22
It's a horror what happened in Rwanda. And what's been happening now in Darfour. But I take exception to your OP, which seems to imply that it's the responsibility of the US military to intervene in cases like that. That's not supposed to be the purpose of the US military (although its purpose has been stretched a lot in recent years.) The purpose of the US military is, and has historically been, to protect US national and strategic interests. The intervention failure was a failure of the United Nations. All right, the UN is heavily influenced by the US, but there's enough blame to go around. It's the UN's mission to intervene in situations like this, and it was their failure not to support their people in Rwanda with peace-keeping troops and arms.
post #12 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by coaster
It's the UN's mission to intervene in situations like this, and it was their failure not to support their people in Rwanda with peace-keeping troops and arms.
Well, the UN needs money and troops from its member countries in order to do so, and back then the U.S. didn't approve of then Secretary-General Bhoutros Bhoutros-Ghali, among other things, and Congress withheld membership dues. So I think some criticism of the U.S. in that matter is warranted.
If the richest and most powerful country in the world won't intervene, who, then, will? The only reason that Kosovo wasn't a complete rerun of Bosnia was that NATO, under U.S. leadership, took matters in hand.

The subject of Rwanda and Darfur came up in school today, as the kids were all talking about Live 8, and one girl stated that there was no sense in intervening in African conflicts, because everything in Africa boils down to tribes, and thus Europeans, Americans, etc., have no understanding of the mentality there. I was very pleased that another girl turned around and said, "One word: Yugoslavia."
post #13 of 22
It is rather horrifying to think what some people are enduring in this day and age. Thanks for helping us understand a little better, Marie.
post #14 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by coaster
It's a horror what happened in Rwanda. And what's been happening now in Darfour. But I take exception to your OP, which seems to imply that it's the responsibility of the US military to intervene in cases like that. That's not supposed to be the purpose of the US military (although its purpose has been stretched a lot in recent years.) The purpose of the US military is, and has historically been, to protect US national and strategic interests. The intervention failure was a failure of the United Nations. All right, the UN is heavily influenced by the US, but there's enough blame to go around. It's the UN's mission to intervene in situations like this, and it was their failure not to support their people in Rwanda with peace-keeping troops and arms.
Do the American people really want to let people die needlessly? If not, wouldn't it be the duty of the US government to help? And wouldn't that be in the US's best interests?
(that goes for other countries too)

To be honest, I fail to see why I should care more about people who live in the same country as me than I should about people in other coutries. We're all human, all equal (or at least we should be) and I think we have a duty to help each other, regardless of borders.

Unfortunately, most people don't know what is going on in other countries. I think that is why our governments are able to avoid helping in situations like Rwanda, or in many other situations, make things worse. I don't think it's up to the government to decide what is the best thing to do. The ordinary people within the country should be the ones pressuring for a more "humane" foreign policy.
post #15 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by marie-p
Do the American people really want to let people die needlessly?
No, of course not. I believe the American people are extraordinarily empathetic and generous. If maybe somewhat under-informed about things going on in the rest of the world. The question is how to best handle these situations. Humanitarian missions have not been the primary mandate of the US military. But I think that humanitarian missions ARE the mandate of the United Nations. The fact they have failed so miserably isn't the US's fault. The UN is a sinkhole of bumbling, incompetent, corrupt beauracracy stuck in a morass of inertia. I think the failure of the US to meet its UN funding committments is intentional. Who in their right mind would want to poor money down a bottomless pit and see it accomplish nothing? It's time for a complete overhaul of the UN. Perhaps even a new organization to take its place. An effective organization that has the resources and authority to act when situations like these come up. The US could contribute manpower as well as funds, of course. But that would leave the role of the US military as one of national security and defense. Something it's good at. It hasn't shown itself to be much good at fooling around in other countries messing about with things that are outside of its mission. As has been amply demonstrated, the US government has been pretty good at mucking things up when acting unilaterally in world affairs. Is there any reason to expect they would have done any differently in Rwanda?
post #16 of 22
Another thorny issue with using the US military to stop genocide is national sovereignty. For example, if the US government unilateraly sent its military forces into Sudan to stop the genocide in Darfur, it would be nothing less than the invasion of a sovereign nation. Of course, unless Sudan invited them in. But they're not going to do that seeing as how they've been complicit in the depradations of the Janjaweed. And they don't want anybody to come in there and stop it for them.
post #17 of 22
Not to get off topic but a human is worth about$7 us for the chemicals that make up the human body...

I personally beleive the UN should be dismantled due to it nature being mentioned in Revelations...

I am sympathetic to other countrys but my own has yet to feed shelter and take care of all of its people , so until that time I dont think we should be tring to fix the world till we are fixed at home.. jmho
post #18 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by sharky
a human is worth about$7 us for the chemicals that make up the human body...
Hey, that's great!! When I was a kid, I was only worth 98 cents!!

Sorry for the levity in a serious topic.
post #19 of 22
I have read the book - and many articles by Dallaire and others like him and have been to Rawanda with Les Medecins Sans Frontieres where we tried to put bandaids on the injuries caused by people who think war is the solution to the problems of the world.

He is a good man - one of those rare people who comes along now ands then and truly seeks to help people for sincerely altruistic reasons. He is not in the least anti American. He is as critical of other countries and his own - Canada- too.

I do not want to write a long treatise on this tonite (I deal with my own demons of post traumatric stress from my own travels) but military people from many countries have done a lot of damage in those countries - committed many atrocities that are never reported on the news here.

We need more countries to engage in peace keeping and to fund that more effectively. I;d say "more" but that money never seems to get to where it really needs to go - as is ther situation is the Sudan currently and also in Indonesia where I was most recently. His critiscim of the US and its supporters (including my own country) is one of the few books that tells the truth about war.

I come home very angry every time I go on one of those missions. I have learbned I can only do what I can given what little I have but I can try to change a wee bit of humanity and hope that the few children I do help will grow up to be caring and kind citizens of the world and not future Osamas or war advocates in the west. I almost lost my sister on 9/11 (her company having an office in one of the towers) and I am absoluteky appalled that anyone with any brains can seriously believe killing and maiming innocent children in Iraq has managed to prevent another atrocity like it. In fact, we now live in a much more dangerous world!!! It also amazes me that so many people belive Saddam (another horrible man) had anything to do with 9/11 - and I am alarmed at how biased the US TV networks especially are in their reporting of war and other world situations like Rawanda. Canadian networks and the BBC are a tad better - in the sense that they at least will cover what is going on in hot spots and not simply just report on Iraq. RTE (main Irish network) even better still. I like CNN but they too seem to have bought into the line that this war is nasty but OK.

Sorry to go offtrack a bit - but Romeo Dallaire is a genuine hero with absolutely no agenda but to do what he can to help others. We need more like him.

I want to say so much more but there is no time, sigh
post #20 of 22
I understand & agree about what everyone is saying, BUT..
what hasn't been considered here is the enormous cost of moving a military force.
Not only that, but what the government may be doing is setting strategic/economic priorities on where & what it responds to. It's not possible to help everyone, & even if we could, I'm sure there would be other countries labeling us as "World Police" or "World Bullies" or some such thing. Americans are damned if they do, damned if they don't. The line must be drawn somewhere.
post #21 of 22
Marie, of course we care more about those close to us than we do strangers.

A blatant illustration, but wouldn't you cry more at the loss of a family member than you would over the stranger on the obit page ?

If we strive to make "charity begin at home", then the circle will ripple outward and help those who are in need, but to step across the body of a starving neighbor to help a distant starving stranger makes no sense at all.

Leonard
post #22 of 22
Perhaps I'm being foolish in dredging up this old thread, but "Shake Hands With The Devil" was on my summer reading list, and I still can't get it out of my mind. I generally get through a book in a few hours, but this one was so devastating that it took me weeks to read it in small portions. Reading it while watching reports on Hurricane Katrina at the same time made me wonder if there were parallels. Was the slow response in New Orleans racist, just as the lack of interest in Rwanda appeared to be in part? I would hate to think that the powers that be thought "African-American = Democrat". Or "Louisiana = Democrat". I dismissed TV discussions of this at first, but still have some nagging doubts.
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