Gourevitch book review Essay
Gourevitch book review
Renowned American author and journalist Philip Gourevitch, presents his 1998 ardent and authoritative non-fiction publication titled We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, stories from Rwanda. New York: Paw Prints. The book chronicles the events in the Rwandan genocide and provides a riveting description of the author’s travel to Rwanda after the genocide and the horrors he encountered. He interviews a number of those who survived the ordeals and gathers the information which he uses to reconstruct their horrifying stories and thus provides a reflection of the genocide.
Gourevitch has earned a number of prestigious awards as an appreciation of his highly credible and analytical book. The 1998 National Book Critics Award leads the number of numerous awards that he has managed to scoop. The 1994 Rwandan genocide brought this tiny country in East Africa into the limelight. Gourevitch made follow ups to the 1994 genocide and he gained interest in unearthing the information since he was not getting satisfied by following the happenings from afar. This prompted him to make a number of trips in a period of two years to both Rwanda and its neighbors.
It was during his visits to report about the aftermath of the genocide that he published his book. Most of the information that America and most of the western countries have on the genocide is mainly accredited to Gourevitch’s work. The author starts the book by describing Decimation which he describes as “the killing of every tenth person in a population”. Gourevitch goes further to describe how in the summer of 1994 a series of “massacres decimated the Republic of Rwanda” (Gourevitch, 1998 p. 1).
The author argues that even though the massacre was carried out with machetes, the rate at which it was carried out was staggering. To highlight the seriousness of these killings the author compares them with the Holocaust in which he points out that the massacre was nearly three times deadlier than the Holocaust. He narrates how the government had adopted a new policy in which the Hutu majority was to kill all the Tutsi’s minority with the reasoning being that this would make the world a better place.
What followed were cold blooded murders of the Tutsi minority with use of machetes (Gourevitch, 1998). Gourevitch adopts a rather judgmental and snarky tone that is geared towards those who made decisions that in one way or another led to the genocide. He also tackles the root problems that sparked the mass killings in this small country. The author in his logical thinking about the root cause of the genocide argues that the colonial history of Rwanda was a major contributor to the genocide.
Gourevitch argues that the tribal rivalry between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority can be traced back to the Belgium regime which colonized Rwanda. The author points out that “Belgium itself was a nation divided along ethnic lines, in which the Francophone Walloon minority,” ruled the country (Gourevitch, 1998 p. 58). The regime while in Rwanda fostered the minority Tutsi elites and portrayed the Hutu’s as a downtrodden ethnic race just useful as the workforce. This would obviously leave a bad taste to the majority Hutu group towards the minority Tutsi group.
The extent for this hate was clearly highlighted at the rate with which the killings took place which the author says were the “most efficient mass killing since Hiroshima and Nagasaki” (Gourevitch, 1998, p. 1). Gourevitch presents this book in such a way that it is highly critical of the lack of intervention from Western governments and the United Nations forces, who he claims just stood by and watched as the killings took place. The Belgians and the French are blamed for their complicity and also the author portrays these countries as some that aided in reinforcing their own senses of impunity.
One of the most disturbing truths in the book that the author reveals is that those who had died knew they were going to die. The author tells of how “it was announced on radio, it was in the newspapers, people spoke of it openly” (p. 18). This use of the media to propagate the killings is also to be blamed since it acted as a focal point in the genocide. Theda Skocpol a renowned sociologist and political scientist, tries to offer some light as to why violence may tend to occur in a political system.
She mainly takes her ideas from the Marxist class conflict in which she mainly argues from the rural agrarian and state conflicts. The author of STATES AND SOCIAL REVOLUTIONS: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China aims to offer some explanations by employing both the “Marxist scholarship and recent social science theories about revolution” (Skocpol, 2007 p. 35). In her book she argues that France, Russia and China are all successful revolutions and even though they are quite a number of differences there seems to be a pattern that is distinctive of the three revolutions.
Skocpol argues that a change in a social system will quite often lead to grievances and thus the emergence of group interests with the effective potential of collective mobilization. This as she points out will lead to the emergence of mass based movements that may have the purpose of overthrowing an entire social order. She argues that this revolutionary movement will fight and in case it wins it will establish its own authority (Skocpol, 2007 p. 14-15).
This can be paralleled to what happened in Rwanda where the Hutu had grievances against the minority Tutsi and thus embarked on actions that were geared towards changing an entire social order with the belief that by exterminating the Tutsi people they could make the world better place” (Gourevitch, 1998 p. 6). The author in this book tries hard to prove that it was a genocide and he even asserts his position on the severity of this matter by reminiscing of how he read that “the United States had decided for the first time in its history to use the word genocide to describe what happened” (Gourevitch, 1998 p.
7). Gourevitch in this book only provides antecedents rather that clear cut answers and therefore the satisfaction of the book is not quenched. Gourevitch’s book is mainly geared towards criticizing the response of the international community in responding and averting the genocide and his anger cannot be hidden and this leads to him only presenting one side of the story instead of being neutral.
The book is extremely critical of the west and the United Nation which the author uses sarcasm to depict how the Rwandans never thought the UN soldiers knew how to shoot in order to quell the killings but after a while they were showed their prowess in shooting dogs which were eating corpses in the streets. However, the atrocities that took place in Rwanda are still capable of happening anywhere else and considering the fact that they means used were not highly sophisticated just shows how if such a genocide would ever take place again in the world then the results would be highly catastrophic.
The author does a good job in depicting the genocide and his highly analytical technique of even going back to how the two tribes in contention, interacted leaves us with room to understand clearly how the genocide came to be. References: Gourevitch, P (1998). We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: stories from Rwanda. New York: Paw Prints Skocpol, T (2007). States and social revolutions: a comparative analysis of France, Russia and China. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007