Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Fourth of July Holiday Reading

An AT reader suggested a book a few weeks ago that we want to recommend for summer reading. It may be especially appropriate as Americans celebrate the birth of independence and the legacy of freedom.

The book is not about the U.S. or its history. But Philip Gourevitch's We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families, is an extraordinary testament to the dignity of individuals and the collective need for the rule of law and the protections of a civil society.

Gourevitch's book, published in 1998, is a detailed and chilling reconstruction of the Rwanda massacres of the early 1990s. More importantly for American readers today, it's a contemplation of the nature of truth and the tenuousness of morality in the modern world.

As some readers may recall, Rwanda, a small mountainous nation in central Africa, suffered under decades of corrupt colonial and home-grown leadership. By the 1990s, the main two tribal groups, the Tutsis and the Hutus, were at the boiling point and the nation exploded in a violent frenzy.

Gourevitch explains that most of violence involved enraged Hutus killing every Tutsi or Tutsi sympathizer they could find, including women and children. He also explains that the cause of the violence was not as simple as depicted in Western media reports.

Even worse, in some ways, Gourevitch details the impotence of the UN, western governments, religious groups, and humanitarian groups when faced with violence and disorder on a national scale. It's a damning portrait that will make any sensitive observer question the efforts of well-intentioned people and organizations in an international setting.

We haven't finished the book yet, but we can see why many readers of We Wish to Inform You have been profoundly changed by the book. For us, the Rwandan story has been a reminder of why we care so deeply about the rights and responsibilities of democratic self-government.

Happy Birthday, AMERICA.

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