Every human being on the planet over age 15 needs to see “Hotel Rwanda.” That is a strong statement and a strong opinion, but the facts of the film and the situation it describes justifies this imperative.
Digital storytelling is a powerful medium. Watching a film is not as powerful as actually “being there” and talking to real people who have lived experiences that defy our imagination’s ability to envision nightmares– but at times, it can come very close. The story of Paul Rusesabagina and his courage in the face of the senseless slaughter of his countrymen not only needs to be heard, it needs to be discussed and debated by people of almost all ages. And it needs to be SEEN. “Hotel Rwanda” is not a film that focuses exclusively on grisly scenes of human killing– it certainly is about the Rwandan genocide, but fundamentally it is a story of human drama, courage, and fortitude in the face of overwhelming circumstances.
This is not a film for young people. I would recommend not watching it unless a person is at least in high school. Students generally study the Holocaust in World War II as part of their US History and World History classes in the United States. Studying the Holocaust is critical, but our study of genocide should not leave the impression that unbelieveable actions like these are only artifacts of the past. Sadly, they are also current events.
In 1998, I created a social studies lesson for students entitled, “At War in Yugoslavia: Seeking Perspective Through Technology.” This lesson is available as a published article (www.wtvi.com/teks/98_99_articles/yugoslavia.html), and as an online electronic lesson resource (www.wtvi.com/teks/yugoslavia/).
The third lesson activity is entitled, “Comparing the Scale of Humanitarian Crises.” It asks students to compare the both the numbers of people who died in humanitarian crises in the mid-1990s, as well as the financial costs to the US military. These conflicts include those in Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti prior to the ’94 US intervention, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Kosovo. The comparisons of human lives lost raises questions that are unavoidable– and should be answered candidly. Did the US refuse to intervene in Rwanda because their nation did not have any national resources deemed valuable to the West, and their people were black Africans rather than white Europeans? Tragically, I think the answer to both questions is yes.
It is not only sad to study the cowardice of the West in refusing to intervene in the bloodbath which occurred in Rwanda, but also vitally important to the future of international security. As mentioned in the film, the US experience in Somalia played a huge role in the US decision to NOT intervene with force to stop the fighting. I happen to know one of the officers personally (a good friend of mine from school) who was on the AC-130 gunship that the US finally sent into Somalia in 1993 to provide US soldiers fighting there with additional airpower support they desperately needed.
Watching Hotel Rwanda, I was struck by two simultaneous thoughts and emotions:
1- If firepower like that operationalized in the AC-130 Spectre gunship was ever to be used for a morally righteous purpose (and I do, btw, think it has been in the past) then it SHOULD have been used to end the Rwandan genocide. But military power is just one part of this equation, alebeit an extremely important part.
2- Education coupled with economic development which helps people rise out of povety are the only long term answers to a situation like that which occurred in Rwanda. Bigotry, racism, and discrimination turning into hatred are unfortunately common among our human species. The ignorance which breeds such foul beliefs and detestable actions is not incurable, but it can seem intractable, especially when found (as it often is) in situations of poverty.
We MUST seek to bring greater levels of education as well as economic growth and prosperity to all regions of the world, if we hope to fight effectively against genocidal events in the long term. If “The World is Flat,” we must find ways to extend the benefits of that flat world to all citizens of the planet.
The conditions which led to genocides in Germany in the 1940s, Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s, and elsewhere must be studied and understood. This is not a task reserved only for political scientists and military strategists. It is a task for us all, for we are “the public” and the body politic whose opinion polls have and will continue to move the gunships and political will of the most powerful nation (economically and militarily) of the early 21st century.
Citizens of our nation are shamed by the events in the Rwandan genocide– not because we were directly responsible for their onset, but because we stood by idly as approximately a million people (whose numbers we will never truly know in this life) were brutally slaughtered.
For more on Hotel Rwanda and the Rwandan genocide, in addition to the lesson links above I recommend the Wikipedia entry for Paul Rusesabagina:
It includes an excellent link to an interview with Paul and the actor who portrayed him in “Hotel Rwanda,” Don Cheadle:
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