Category Archives: Assignment 8

The Many Shades of Good and Evil

Are people basically good or evil? Such a broad and introspective question brings many other factors into the answer.  For example, are good and evil universal concepts? Are those concepts applied evenly?  Reading Emergency Sex has given me a clearer view of certain abhorrent situations around the world, and also how they affect the three aid workers.  In order to understand if people are good or evil, I have to first understand what is viewed as good or evil.  Cultures vary greatly; religion, geography, climate, foreign control and government are just a few factors that can influence how culture develops.

 Good_Vs_Evil___Male_Vs_Female_by_Mr_Grim1077

Religion or reverence of the supernatural has historically been one of the biggest factors in shaping culture.  For example, the Abrahamic faiths all support a form of similar rules, the Ten Commandments.  While the Quran only mentions the actual commandments briefly, it still contains similar teachings like, “you shall not take life, which God has made sacred, except by way of justice and law. Thus does God command you, that you may learn wisdom.” So, cultures with a history of Abrahmic faith may have developed under similar teachings. However, religious practices even among these faiths vary greatly, and their interpretations have been the subject of many conflicts.  Further, Taoism and Buddhism can be practiced in tandem, but they still differ in their core teachings.  Before writing this essay I leaned towards thinking religion would imbue cultures with at least a little ‘good,’ but there have been so many wars and killings with religious motives that this conclusion seems false.  Religion helps shape the structure, laws and hierarchy of a culture, but this doesn’t make it inherently good.  I also don’t think that practices are uniform enough to be able to say there is a pattern of good or evil.

 

One of the biggest pitfalls of trying to write this essay is not judging a particular culture by its most significant figures or events.  For example, the Aztecs practiced a religion that included human sacrifice, but is that emblematic of all the Aztec people? Did they all condone this behavior?  I think the many cultures’ views of good and evil are beginning to unite as technology gives greater connectedness.  Murder as opposed to self defense and retribution for crimes committed against another are a few examples of widely practiced customs.  Isolation facilitated cultures growing in different directions, but not we have global organizations that attempt to bridge those gaps.

 

So, are people basically good or evil?  I think people and cultures have a propensity for both.  Factors like government and religion can shape how good or evil take shape, but there still isn’t a uniform idea of what those shapes are.  Modern technology is helping the world define these concepts in a more concrete, universal way.  I’d argue that this organization, this attempt to bridge cultures and create a world with shared values is evidence that the tendency toward good is inherently stronger than the tendency toward evil.

 

Cain, Kenneth, Postlewait, Heidi and Thomson, Andrew. “Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures.” London. 2004.

 

Padukone, Neil. Do Abrahamic Faiths Have a Monopoly on Truth? Huffington Post. June 3, 2012. Web. June 24, 2013.

 

Winkelman, Michael.  Aztec Human Sacrifice: Cross-Cultural Assessments of the Ecological Hypothesis.    University of Pittsburgh. 1998. Web.  June 24, 2013.

 

 

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The Awakening

Everyone strives to find where they belong in this world. They try to find a group to fit in with in elementary, middle, and high school and have a chance to explore more of themselves as they find more freedom in college. There are changes in the body, the mind, and scenery throughout those years on the journey from teenager to young adult. Then, as though the world is in fast forward, they’re being slammed out into the real world. No more books, no more classrooms, and it’s time to learn how the real world works. Emergency Sex recounts the transition of three humanitarian workers – Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson – from their post-college young adulthood at the beginning of the 1990’s through their thirties in the early 2000’s. They detail the journey that led them to join the United Nations (UN). They share their experiences of excitement, love, loss, life, death, and their awakenings to the real world.

The path that led these three into humanitarian aid work was all different, but they all ended up in the same place, with the UN. Ken, the most intriguing of the three characters, came from Harvard law school and was the least likely to be involved with humanitarian aid work. He did have a different goal in life than that of many of his fellow peers at Harvard, which was to avoid corporate law. However, it was only after a while of being unemployed and a call off of a napkin that he landed on a plane to be a lawyer for the UN in Cambodia. Heidi was recently divorced and in search of herself as a single woman and only relying on herself for support. She got a job at the UN with the help of her ex-sister-in-law and only applied for fieldwork to help get back on track financially. Andrew, the doctor, was already involved in the field with the Red Cross in Cambodia before Ken or Heidi even thought about the UN. He transitioned to the UN as the Red Cross was leaving Cambodia and the UN was staying on. He had felt he could still make a difference in Cambodia.

They all started with a naïve sense of how the world worked and the impact they had on it. Their first mission in Cambodia had been successful. Cambodia was the place where these three first meet. Ken, the rookie, Andrew, the doctor, and Heidi, the secretary, all got fulfillment out of the feeling they made a difference as the election was successfully held. The fulfillment would lead each of them to embarking on a new mission of changing the world. This single feeling of success and ability to change the world leads them all on the journey of discovery.

Somehow we form an unlikely triangle I want to try to keep intact. I’m going to miss them, but Cambodia’s just the beginning (Emergency 90). Andrew, the most experienced in the field of the three, finds closure on Cambodia after the successful election. It’s time for him to move on and help another nation in need. He’s on a plane to Haiti, without Ken and Heidi, to begin his next mission. This mission does not go successfully and leads him to the Dominican Republic, to UN headquarters in New York, Bosnia, Rwanda, and back to Bosnia. He learns a lot about the true evil in the world with the genocide attempts in Bosnia and Rwanda as he sifts through mass graves in an attempt to identify bodies and begins to question if they could have been avoided with intervention by the UN or US military. His faith is tested through these tough times and he questions the fact God let these atrocities happen. He contemplates suicide, as these memories flood in, after his time in field is done. He’s still uneasy and deeply burdened by his experiences down his path of discovery.

There must be another election or landslide or war somewhere where UN secretaries are needed (Emergency 88). Heidi had just began to discover herself and decided there was more of the world she could impact. The initial job to help fund her financially had turned into something that filled a void that was missing when she was back home. The attempt to continue to fill this void leads her to Somalia & Haiti. She finds empowerment in Somalia as she is given the title of watch officer. She finds herself in the line of danger, embraces the insider look into these cultures, coins the term emergency sex, and finds her true love in Haiti. She grows from a lonely wife to a young, naïve first-time fieldworker works her way through self-discovery and casual sexual relationships to finding true love and settling down. This all gets taken away from her in November of 1998, when her true love in Haiti, Marc, dies. Soon after, she also loses her mother. The strength from her experiences in humanitarian aid work, and the friendships she formed during those times, allow her to recover from these tragic events and live a happy life.

This is the chance of a lifetime. I finally found my moment in history (Emergency 89). Ken, looking to prove himself to Andrew, embarked on his next mission to Somalia. The chance to make a difference is pumping through his veins and the need for approval leads him into deadly situations. In the face of death, Ken remains calm and keeps his cool. His status as naïve, uninformed rookie is immediately upgraded to experienced veteran. His relationship with Heidi, strictly platonic, continues to grow stronger and he’s beginning to learn more about himself, as well as the true workings of the UN. The loss of a fellow aid worker, leads him to a re-connection with his father. His next missions cover Rwanda, Haiti, & Liberia. He continues the discovery of the true evils in this world and becomes fed up with the handling of many situations by the UN. The Harvard graduate turned aid worker grows from a naïve rookie to a poised leader.

Andrew, Heidi, and Ken provide their stories from different perspectives. Andrew, the least likeable or approachable, manages to barely hang on at the end and goes from savvy veteran to an equal in the eyes of Heidi and Ken. Heidi, who is probably the most likeable, isn’t scared of her sexuality. She outwardly appears confident and is comfortable in her own skin, but it isn’t until the end, after all she has endured, that she shows her true strength. Ken proves himself on every mission. At any point he could have simply gone back to the easy life and relied on his Harvard education to get him to a successful position, but he didn’t. He continued to believe that good could fight evil and that he was on the right side. He embraced his experiences, good or bad, and learned from them. This positive growth comes directly from his experiences while with the UN. The corporate world would not have allowed this awakening to happen in Ken and it would not have led him to be the man he is today.

cainHundreds of green coffins with remains of Bosnian Muslims found in mass graves are prepared for a funeral

Works Cited:

Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures: A True Story From Hell on Earth. New York: Hyperion, 2004. Print.

N.d. Photograph. n.p. Web. 24 Jun 2013. <http://www.law.harvard.edu/news/bulletin/backissues/fall2000/images/cain.GIF>.

N.d. Photograph. n.p. Web. 24 Jun 2013. <http://www.smh.com.au/ffximage/2008/07/22/karadzic15_wideweb__470x312,0.jpg>.

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Assignment 8 Tabula rasa

“Are people inherently good or evil?” The answer from a person, who has gone through wars and genocide, will be quite different from the answer from a university student who can eat at all-you-can-eat dining halls every day. It is certainly easier for us to say people are inherently good as we have not been experienced same as people who are struggling for their survival. We have seen and experienced more beautiful things than them, and we have never been to hell on earth. I believe in humanity and I try my best to keep my faith in humanity as Anne Frank quoted, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart” (Frank). However, there are still questions left for me to ask, “Am I in a position where I can say that people are inherently good?” “What if the reality and truth of the real world surpass my biased and stereotypical assumptions on my faith in humanity?” “Can I naïvely say that people are inherently good and I believe in humanity and we can make a world a better place despite of all tragedies?” Based on what I have heard, experienced, and read, I will try to attempt to keep my questions in mind when I  answer the question on whether people are basically good or evil.

childsoldiers

If I ask the question, “Are people basically good or evil?” to these children, What kinds of answers will I get?

In Emergency Sex, Kenneth Cain encountered with a so-called ‘evil society.’ 80,000 Tutsis were killed by Hutus and he criticize the United Nations for being irresponsible specifically Annan’s decision, “to defend only the UN’s image of impartiality, forbidding him to protect desperate civilians waiting to die. Next, it details the withdrawal of UN troops, even while blood flowed and the assassins reigned, leaving 800,000 Rwandans to their fate” (Cain). Although it’s absurd to say 800,000 Tutsis died because of the United Nations and Kofi Annan, the United Nations and Kofi Annan should be responsible for 1) Incapacity and decisions that valued their personal gains over lives of Tutsis 2) Accountability of the United Nations caused by corrupted framework and their corrupted leaders 3) Having a role of the protectors of peace 4) What they did in the Rwandan genocide was not what they had been preaching.

What Hutus did to Tutsis should not be tolerated in all aspects. What they did were inhumane, cruel, and evil. Excuses like being less-educated, failing to control emotions, and arguing for cultural and ethnical differences are illogical and invalid; therefore they should not accepted. According to the research carried out by Paul Bloom at Yale University, babies as young as six months old make moral judgment and can tell right from wrong (bloom). Tutsis knew exactly what they were doing. Also, the United Nations’ corrupted officers mentioned above also knew what they were doing were evil as well. However, rather than calling them evil, I want to label their behaviors and actions as evil. “Men are cruel, but man is kind” (Tagore). Collective behaviors and other sociological factors can influence people to behave in certain ways that a single individual doesn’t intend. The corrupted UN officers were not as bad as they first started their career. As they are blended into the complex and social framework that has selfish characteristic, they start to lose their good and humane characters. Also, not all the Hutus started as murderers. In the Rwandan genocide, the Hutus were led by their charismatic, but emotional leaders who made other Hutus like illogical and overwhelmingly emotional bulls. Some Hutus who were participated in the genocide were victims as well. People are weak and they are neither good nor evil. It’s a blank sheet of paper that can be easily colored with dark and light colors (Tabula rasa).

It's what you put on the paper.

It’s what you put on the paper. you can put beautiful colors, or ugly colors.

 

References

Bloom, Paul. “The Moral Life of Babies.” . The New York Times, 05 May 2010. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/magazine/09babies-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&>.

Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures: A True Story From Hell on Earth. New York: Hyperion, 2004. Print.

“tabula rasa.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 22 Jun. 2013. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/tabula rasa>.

 

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Good vs. Evil

“Emergency Sex” presents how corrupt and “evil” humanity can be, ranging from the inhabitants in a third world country to a large-scale corporation such as the UN. The book obviously wasn’t written to show how malevolent humans could be though; rather it’s just something that many people seem to take away from reading it. This raises the question, are humans, for the most part, morally good or evil. This book shows the good side – the people providing aid and trying to support development for the less fortunate. It also shows the ugly side – many of the people inhabiting these developing areas as well as a handful of the higher-ups in the UN. It’s unfair, after reading this book to make the assumption that humans are basically evil without being ethnocentric, it’s all about looking at things in the big picture and examining why good people sometimes do evil things.

“In real life, the hardest aspect of the battle between good and evil is determining which is which” – George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin is the author of the popular fantasy series, “A Song of Ice and Fire” which the TV show “Game of Thrones” is modeled after. GRRM has very few completely “good” and completely “evil” characters; rather everyone is fighting for what they believe is right. Much like in “Emergency Sex,” almost all of the characters are neither black nor white, but varying shades of grey. There are a number of good people that do evil things and vice versa, but a couple actions shouldn’t define an entire person or corporation.

When the name Kofi Annan comes to mind, many people will label the man, sometimes the entire UN, as evil because of the actions he took before the genocide in Rwanda. Cain describes it well, “An armed, predeployed UN forced evacuated as soon as it started. All those signatures on the Genocide Convention, dozens of rapturously celebrated human rights treaties, a mountain of documents at UNHQ on the subject of genocide, law professors all over the world making a living talking about this, and we evacuated” (209). It’s the general consensus that this is where the United Nations failed, and the consequences were devastating. This does not make the UN an evil corporation, nor Annan an evil individual. The UN failed, Annan failed, but they weren’t directly responsible for the deaths of almost one million civilians in Rwanda.

For the same reason, it wouldn’t be fair to label a culture as completely evil. Take the Aztecs for example. They would sacrifice people on a daily basis in reverence to their gods, and would be blessed the very next day with the sun coming up. The Aztecs believed that the only way to keep the apocalypse from happening was through sacrifice. They viewed sacrifice as morally good, because they were keeping the world from coming to an end on a daily basis, whereas a modern westerner might view them as evil because they killed so many people for a useless cause.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4GAQtGtd_0

This brings us back to the question: are humans, for the most part, good or evil? The vast majority of the humans on Earth are morally good. Even when they make the wrong decision, the intentions are often good, which is the case among many aid organizations. People that believe otherwise are often too close-minded to look past the results of an action and consider the mindset a person is in or the motives behind what they do. Human nature shows that it’s much easier to make a human life than to take it (Zak).

 

Cain, Kenneth. “How Many More Must Die Before Kofi Quits?” April 3, 2005. Web.

Cain, Kenneth, Postlewait, Heidi and Thomson, Andrew. “Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone.” London. 2004. Print.

Zak, Paul J. “Are Humans Good or Evil?” Psychology Today. Sussex Directories, Inc., 10 Feb. 2011. Web.

 

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Good vs. Evil: A Question of Survival

The idea that good and bad are cultural constructs has almost become a cliche.  While I may support abortion I can understand the arguments of others for keeping it illegal.  Far more interesting, I believe, are the causes of our staunch moral codes.  The bottom line is that we as a species look to survive and multiply before all else.  At their cores, good and bad come down to breaking or adhering to and exemplifying our cultural standards.  While a polygamist may be heralded as successful for having 5 wives, we in America find this to abhorrent and create laws to prevent such a practice.  These norms and laws exist because we as a society and culture have decided collectively that we do not want to live in an environment where these things happen regularly.

This social contract exists until the system collapses.  If people need to break cultural norms to survive they will.  I would argue that this is the root cause of theft, murder and looting during times of crisis.  Consider the 1972 Andes flight disaster.  In this gruesome tale a plane carrying 45 people crashes in the Andes.  During their struggle to survive and subsequent trek to freedom they resorted to cannibalism when their food supplies ran out.  None of them would have done that if it could have been avoided, but because their lives depended on it they did (Goodenough).

While researching for this topic I thought it would be very interesting to look up research that pertains to children, especially babies.  Infants have the least exposure to culture and I figured that this could yield a definitive answer to the good vs evil question.  In a study at Yale university, researchers showed babies a puppet show where one shaped tried to “climb the hill, struggling up and falling back down again. Next, the other two shapes got involved, with either one helping the climber up the hill, by pushing up from behind, or the other hindering the climber, by pushing back from above.”  They found that babies tended to gravitate towards the helper shape following this show.  This was not the end of the testing.  “Infants saw a second scene in which the climber shape made a choice to move towards either the helper shape or the hinderer shape. The time infants spent looking in each of the two cases revealed what they thought of the outcome. If the climber moved towards the hinderer the infants looked significantly longer than if the climber moved towards the helper.”(Stafford)  I think it is clear that the babies are not thinking that one is good while the other is bad, both of which are defined by culture.  The baby instead is seeing helpful action vs detrimental.  I think this makes it clear that good and bad are products to upbringing, and that people are not inherently evil as some may say.

So can we say that someone or some culture is evil or not?  I think that the key is to first understand that it is all culturally relative.  One we move past this I think that you can pass moral judgement on a person.  So are there truly evil people in the world?  I would say that of course there are, one simply needs to turn on the news to find them.  That said, I can’t help but feel sorry for people that commit heinous acts.  These are likely people that were brought up in such a traumatic or twisted environment that they either think what they are doing is ok, or that they feel that they need to do it to ensure their survival.  Had they been brought up differently who knows what they could be doing.  Major Top, the genocidaires in Rwanda, are all a product of their upbringing.  That said, I wish Andrew, Ken and I could have been up in that bell tower with with a heavy machine gun, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and boxes of ammunition. We could have cut those machete-wielding, blood-crazed drunken killers to pieces from here one by one. With insane joy” (Cain, Postlewait and Thomson 243).

Works Cited

Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thompson. Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Goodenough, Tom. “I Had to East a Piece of My Friend to Survive. It Was Repugnent.” Http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/4587280/Plane-crash-survivor-who-ate-the-flesh-of-dead-passengers-to-stay-alive-has-defended-his-actions-40-years-to-the-day-since-Andes-disaster.html. N.p., 13 Oct. 2012. Web. 23 June 2013.

Stafford, Tom. “Are We Naturally Good or Bad?” BBC. N.p., 14 Jan. 2013. Web. 23 June 2013.

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Failed Leadership In the UN

 

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Hundreds of thousands of Tutsi corpses lay rotting in the streets after the brutal genocide in Rwanda. In merely 100 days, 800,000 Tutsis were hacked to death by Hutu machetes simply because of their ethnicity.  And it would be expected that during such a horrendous violation of human rights, humanitarian aid would have rushed into Rwanda to provide safety and refuge for the hunted Tutsis.  It would be expected to that the aid industry and the United Nations would try to limit the deaths brought on by genocide.  However, during the Rwandan genocide, no help from any Western government or aid organization was to be found. In fact, “policymakers in France, Belgium, and the United States and at the United Nations were aware of the preparations for massive slaughter and failed to take the steps needed to prevent it” (United Human Rights Council).  Why? What was more important than protecting 800,000 innocent lives?

As a contributing author to the book Emergency Sex And Other Desperate Measures: True Stories From A War Zone, Kenneth Cain retells personal experiences in Rwanda in which he grapples with why the United Nations failed to intervene during the genocide. Cain points out that UN troops were already in Rwanda before the genocide started (206). Cain explains “this is not a case when the UN failed to send troops to stop genocide. An armed, predeployed UN force evacuated as soon as it started” (206). Why did they leave as soon as crisis started? Although the real reasons may never be uncovered, Cain argues that UN leadership is a contributing factor. Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General, is a major recipient of Cain’s criticisms. During the Rwandan genocide, Annan ordered General Romeo Dallaire, the then head of UN peacekeeping, “to defend only the UN’s image of impartiality, forbidding him to protect desperate civilians waiting to die. Next, it details the withdrawal of UN troops, even while blood flowed and the assassins reigned, leaving 800,000 Rwandans to their fate” (Cain). If Annan had instead ordered UN troops to protect Tutsi lives, would the genocide have been stopped? Although it is impossible to say, it is easy to believe that some lives could have been saved, and with the UN as initiators, Western governments may have later stepped in to end the genocide with the additional use of force.

Cain argues that a main reason the UN did not intervene was because of failure in Somalia and the threat of danger to UN troops. He refers to UN action in Somalia, in which “eighteen Americans die and we [the UN] split” (216).  He goes on the say that the “they knew the UN would never fight, and we’d pull out right away. Which we did” (216). Because of the impending threat of danger in Rwanda, and not wanting to relive the failures in Somalia, the UN decided to essentially ignore the genocide, and “so the Tutsis died a thousands deaths for our cowardice” (215). Why was the United Nations so afraid to risk its own lives? It would seem they were probably worried about tainting the image of the United Nations as an organization. Losing American lives, no matter what the situation, is an event never accepted well by the public. Because there was so much risk in sending UN workers into Rwanda, the possibility of failure was real for Annan. With the fear of negative reporting, criticism by Western societies, and possibly losing his job, Annan probably decided his best option was to not intervene at all. For many aid organizations, saving their reputation and ensuring continued funding are more of a priority than providing aid in areas of crisis. The situation in Rwanda exemplifies this kind of corruption. Like Cain, I agree that the United Nations must revisit their priorities and principles so crises, like the Rwandan genocide, are never allowed to go on with out the assistance of humanitarian aid. 

And although this fearfulness was an important factor, another important contributor was the lack of accountability within the UN. No one questioned Annan’s decision to not intervene in Rwanda. No one asked whether using force, and possibly losing the lives of a few UN troops, might have been worth saving 800,000 innocent people. Cain wonders “how many genocides, the prevention of which is the UN’s very raison d’être, will we endure before the left is moved to criticize Annan?” (Cain). No one is holding Annan accountable for his actions, and it seems that Anna is also failing to uphold accountability within the UN.

Annan failed, and still fails, to hold UN leaders responsible for their corrupt actions. Cain refers UN leaders who would misuse funds to gain a personal profit and pressure young workers into sexual relationships. When Cain reported this to UN officials, they responded “it happens all the time in the field. There is nothing we can do” (Cain).  What kind of leadership allows corruption like this to happen? Cain argues that the UN needs a leader who is not afraid to take risks to save the lives of others. He explains,  “at the very least, he [Annan] could go down trying to save lives, as opposed to going down trying to explain why he didn’t” (Cain). This kind of corruption seems to remain under the radar because the United Nations would never want to be associated with such a scandal. Society views the United Nations, and other aid organizations, with respect and prestige. Therefore, the public and the media alike are often hesitant criticize the aid industry. Therefore, leaders like Annan are able to continue to lead the UN and corruption goes unquestioned. For this kind of problem to be properly handled, the public must speak up about their dissatisfaction with organizations like the UN. Until our frustration with the aid industry is made known, nothing will change. For current victims of crisis, like those in Syria, this is essential. We cannot allow corrupt humanitarian aid practices to keep Syria from receiving effective aid. The United Nations needs to be examined and held accountable for their work in Syria so that we do not visit this situation with the same criticisms as Rwanda.

Annan seems too preoccupied with upholding the “image” of the United Nations to be concerned with intentional crises. Annan ensures that corrupt acts go unreported and violence is avoided to give the UN a “clean” appearance.  As a result, the needs of victims are ignored and innocent lives are lost. As the UN moves forward with current crises, new leadership must be instilled. We must not be afraid to criticize the actions of the UN. If leaders like Annan are not criticized, disasters such as that in Syria may end in tragedy even worse than Rwanda.

 

Sources:

Cain, Kenneth. “How Many More Must Die before Kofi Quits?” Guardian.co.uk. Web.

Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone. London: Ebury, 2004. Print.

United Human Rights Council. “Genocide in Rwanda.” N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.unitedhumanrights.org/genocide/genocide_in_rwanda.htm>.

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A. Nicot – Assignment 8: Rwanda

I’ve been repeatedly exposed the Rwandan genocide. In my IB school I saw the “Ghosts of Rwanda” documentary twice, and again here at Elon, where I also met Carl Wilkens, who was involved in the documentary and was one of the few whites to remain in Rwanda after the events picked up – he has now dedicated his life to educating people on the incident. And now the book Emergency Sex has dealt with it substantially.

The ethnic differences between Tutsi and Hutu caused a certain amount of discontent from one side to the other.

The U.N. is vividly criticized for not taking action to prevent the disaster, by Wilkens, by his documentary, by many writers and politicians, and by the authors of Emergency Sex. The refusal to allow U.N. troops to interfere in any way with the genocide is seen of course as the major failing. So many wonder, could the U.N. have helped in the end? Could they have actually prevented or lessened the effects of the event?

This is what we in the history field call “counterfactual,” that is, “against fact.” We cannot know what might have happened, only what has happened, and even though it is possible to predict and imagine with some accuracy what might have been, for such matters I would say it is largely inadvisable. I don’t think the genocide could have been averted necessarily, if a more forceful and direct intervention had occurred through the U.N. or any of the states involved, any number of things could have happened.

For example, let us imagine the U.N. interfered in the matter from the beginning, and managed somehow to properly deploy troops to secure regions and cities from Hutu attacks on Tutsis. The Hutus constituted over 80% of the country’s ethnic makeup. They were angry, they were riled up, they were ready to visit violence upon their opponents. Could not the U.N. troops have escalated the genocide into a civil war involving U.N. troops and French involvement considering they had a de facto protectorate over Rwanda? Any number of similar situations could have occurred, any number of factors contributed to the real outcome of the Rwandan genocide, and a similar amount would contribute to any alternative conclusion.

The real issue with Rwanda is that it shows the U.N. is fundamentally incapable of fulfilling its role independently of the nations that control it. The fact, alone, that the transport of the armored vehicles was greatly hindered by the American government (which had pledged its non-interference in the Rwandan matter), and that France’s economic interests in the region were not bound by U.N. restrictions on arm shipments, show that it simply can’t act militarily. The “Blue Helmet” U.N. troops are drawn from national governments, and are deployed when the organization can decide when and where to deploy them. The lack of any possible unilateral action renders the U.N. ineffective in these matters, but this does not mean that it should. Matters of internal security are the domain of the state affected and other states with specific interests in the region, that are justifiable, not an extra-national organization whose primary purpose is diplomatic, not military.

Barker, Greg. Ghosts of Rwanda. PBS. 1 Apr. 2004. Television.

Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone. London: Ebury, 2004. Print.

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There is still Hope for Humanity

With all of the instances of great evil in recent memory, it is very tempting to lose faith in humanity and label people as inherently evil, with just a handful of good souls left in the world. Common sense would tell us otherwise however.

One of my professors, Kevin Boyle, when we were trying to write believable characters in our stories, told our English class to always remember that, “everyone’s feelings must be justified.”

He reminded us that no one saw himself or herself as a “bad person” but instead were often times compelled to do evil or wicked things by pressures and external forces or perceptions.

As convenient as the archetype of the purely evil villain is to cast our hatred and fears towards after a tragedy, it is not quite as simple as we make it out to be.

In “Emergency Sex (and other desperate measures): True Stories from a War Zone” Kenneth Cain at one point says, “The problem is that no matter how good your intentions, at some point you want to kill someone yourself.” (Cain)

This quote, when we remind ourselves that it is coming from a humanitarian aid worker and former U.N. human rights lawyer, carries a bit more weight than upon first reading. Cain articulates this point a bit more in an article he wrote titled, “How Many More Must Die before Kofi Quits?” when he describes how Kofi Annan, head of U.N. peacekeeping, had denied General Romeo Dallaire ‘s request for authorization to defend Rwandan civilians who, “had taken refuge in U.N. compounds under implicit and sometimes explicit promises of protection.” (Cain) Cain argues that Annan had ordered Dallaire to, “defend the UN’s image of impartiality, forbidding him to protect desperate civilians waiting to die.” (Cain)

Kofi Annan, a man whose inaction has been blamed for thousands of deaths in the Rwandan conflict, and yet does his inaction make him evil, or just unwilling to risk more lives through intervention?

Kofi Annan, the head of U.N. Peacekeeping, is a man whose inaction has been blamed for thousands of deaths in the Rwandan conflict, and yet does his inaction make him evil, or just unwilling to risk more lives through intervention?

Kofi Annan is often demonized as the symbol of humanitarian incompetence, and serves as the scapegoat for humanitarian action and inaction alike. It would be foolish however to think that Annan wanted these deaths to happen, or that his insistence that the U.N. continue to uphold its commitment to being impartial and neutral (Something Cain often needs reminding of is that the U.N. is not a military force, and that becoming involved in one side of a conflict is ethically murky, and impractical at best) was out of some sick desire to create harm.

One must take into consideration the immense pressure and scrutiny that the U.N. and other “world police” were under at that time. Images of dead U.S. soldiers’ bodies being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu were still burned into the minds of people all over the globe. Many people in positions of power were hesitant to entangle themselves in a place as volatile as Rwanda.

Documents released through a Freedom of Information act in 2004 clearly show that President Clinton was informed of, “a final solution to eliminate all Tutsis” even before the slaughter hit its most deadly point. (Carroll) Yet the U.S.’s reluctance to intervene in the genocide allowed for nearly 800,000 people to die. (Carroll)

Does this mean that President Clinton and Kofi Annan are evil men? The simple answer is no. They are men who have made great mistakes, under overwhelming pressures, and with enormous and disastrous consequences. Neither one of them sought those deaths out, neither of those men wielded machetes.

Nothing can be done for the lives that have already been lost, and the families that have been torn apart by this great tragedy.

The one thing that we cannot allow ourselves to lose however is our faith that the good men and women, with the proper courage and fortitude, can overcome the darkest evil.

In the moments following great acts of violence such as Rwanda, and when we see the faces of the perpetrators who committed these great crimes, we ask ourselves why do these these things happen?

There is a quote from “The Thin Red Line” that puts this idea far more eloquently than I could ever hope to; at one point Private Witt wonders aloud, “This great evil, where does it come from? How’d it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from?” (Malick)

In the wake of disaster fingers are pointed everywhere, but we are reluctant to ever point them toward ourselves.  We must stop asking, “Who is to blame?” and instead begin to ask, “How can we help?”

I want to leave you all with an excerpt from a quote by Patton Oswalt which he wrote right after news broke of the Boston Marathon bombings. These words served as a great source of comfort to me during that trying time, and I hope they inspire you to keep your faith as well.

He writes, “…The vast majority (of the world) stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago. So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, ‘The good outnumber you, and we always will.'” (Oswalt)

 

Works Cited:

Carroll, Rory. “US Chose to Ignore Rwandan Genocide” June 23 2013. March 31, 2004. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/mar/31/usa.rwanda

Cain, Kenneth. “How Many More Must Die Before Kofi Quits?” June 23 2013. April 3, 2005. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/apr/03/theobserver1

Cain, Kenneth, Postlewait, Heidi and Thomson, Andrew. “Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone.” London. 2004. Print.

Oswalt, Patton. June 23, 2013. April 15, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/patton-oswalt-on-the-boston-marathon-bombing/275015/

Malick, Terrance. Jones, James. “The Thin Red Line” 1998. Film.

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The Rwandan Genocide- Who Should Take Responsibility?

Remains of Rwandan genocide victims

Remains of Rwandan genocide victims

What is the difference between duty to a commanding officer and to the human race?  Where is the line between following orders and doing what is right?  Many people have struggled with this question.  What do you do when what you’re told to do and what you think you should do clash?  Ask General Roméo Dallaire.

General Roméo Dallaire was the force commander of UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda from 1993 to 1994- the time period of the infamous Rwandan genocide.  The name of this mission was the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), and it failed terribly.  From April 6 through mid-July of 1994, 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis died at the hands of Hutu extremists, their rival ethnic group.  Among other things in UN Security Council Resolution 872, UNAMIR had been tasked “to monitor the security situation… to investigate at the request of the parties or on its own initiative instances of alleged non-compliance with the provisions of the Arusha Peace Agreement relating to the integration of the armed forces, and pursue any such instances with the parties responsible and report thereon as appropriate to the Secretary-General.”

We now know that Dallaire had information about the impending mass murder of Tutsi by the Hutu- information that could have prevented genocide.  There were arms caches in the city, and Hutu extremists were planning to eliminate all of their opponents.  An informant had come forward to General Dallaire with this warning in January of 1994, nearly three months before the massacres began.  Why was nothing done?  General Dallaire faxed this information to the UN Military Adviser, General Baril.  Dallaire wanted to find the arms caches and take action to show the Hutu extremists who was calling the shots.  He said, “we had all the potential of wrestling the initiative away from the extremists.”  However, the morning after he sent the now infamous “genocide fax”, Dallaire received a reply from Kofi Annan, who was then directing UN Peacekeeping Operations.  Annan’s reply basically said, cease and desist, your mandate doesn’t cover this kind of operation.  Sorry, this isn’t in your instruction manual, so you can’t do anything.  Dallaire was shocked.  In his own words, “I was not to move unless I got specific authority on specific operations from [the UN], and their outfit was like a sieve.”  He felt trapped and desperate, forced into immobility.

Dallaire- “We could have saved hundreds of thousands.”

Annan ordered Dallaire to stand down, even when he knew mass murder was about to occur.  How did Annan let this happen?  The 1993 Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia, commonly known as Black Hawk Down, sent waves of fear throughout the world- fear of losing lives for international causes.  Some would say that this fear caused the death of those 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis.  Someone should have had the courage to do something- Kofi Annan, Roméo Dallaire, someone should have taken the initiative to stop this crime against humanity.  In his Guardian article, Ken Cain makes scathing remarks about Annan’s time at the helm of the UN, stating, “Under Annan, the UN has failed and people have died.”  He compares Annan’s cowardice in how he handled the Rwandan genocide to the bravery on the ground aid workers display every day.  “Annan asks – no, orders – unarmed civilians to risk their lives every day as election observers, human rights monitors, drivers and secretaries in the most dangerous conditions all over the world.  They do it, heroically, every day.  And, in the service of peace, some pay with their lives; others with their sanity.  How can he then not ask of himself the courage to risk his job in the cause of preventing genocide?  At the very least, he could go down trying to save lives, as opposed to going down trying to explain why he didn’t.”  In my opinion, Annan deserves this challenge to his character.  Dallaire’s warning faxes to the UN provided his superiors, including Annan, with sufficient information to take action against the impending tragedy.  I believe this genocide could have been averted.  The fear that was gripping the Western powers cost 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis their lives.

Video of General Dallaire in Rwanda

How much blame should Dallaire share in this story?  He had inadequate resources and was ordered to stand down, how much could he have done?  I don’t know all of the details of the situation in Rwanda in 1994.  I imagine chaos and terror flooding every corner of the small central African country.  Surely, Dallaire could have done something else to help the victims of this killing spree.  He himself feels immense guilt and struggles with feelings of failure and that he could have done more.  “There is no ‘I’m sort of pregnant.’ You are or you aren’t. And in command there is no ‘sort of in command.’ … My failings, my inabilities, not taking advantage, lack of skills — all of it is there. What could I have done better, well, we can discuss that for hours. But there’s one thing for damn sure: I was in the field, I commanded, I did not convince, I lost soldiers and 800,000 people died. And there’s no way of taking that away.”

Tutsi victims left strewn in the Rwandan streets

Tutsi victims left strewn in the Rwandan streets

As people living in an imperfect world, where does this leave us?  I defined global citizenship as “equal parts awareness and action.”  Knowing that something is wrong is only half the battle- acting on it completes the circle.  If we know there is injustice in the world, we are each responsible for doing something about it.  Mother Teresa said, “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”  We have to carry this with us if we hope to do any good in this world.

 

Works Cited

 

“Biography.” Lieutenant-General Roméo A. Dallaire. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 June 2013. <http://www.romeodallaire.com/biography.html>.

Cain, Kenneth. “How Many More Must Die before Kofi Quits?” The Guardian. The Guardian, 3 Apr. 2005. Web. 23 June 2013. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/apr/03/theobserver1>.

Dallaire, Gen. Romeo. “General Romeo Dallaire.” Interview. Ghosts of Rwanda- Interviews. Frontline PBS, 1 Apr. 2004. Web. 23 June 2013. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/ghosts/interviews/dallaire.html>.

“Rwanda- UNAMIR Mandate.” United Nations, n.d. Web. 23 June 2013. <http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/past/unamirM.htm>.

“Rwandan Genocide.” The Espresso Stalinist. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 June 2013. <http://espressostalinist.wordpress.com/genocide/rwandan-genocide/>.

“Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire.” YouTube. California Newsreel, 3 Dec. 2008. Web. 23 June 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sX1CD2nx-a0>.

Shiffman, Ken. “As Genocide Raged, General’s Pleas for Help Ignored.” CNN. CNN, 10 Dec. 2008. Web. 23 June 2013. <http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/africa/11/13/sbm.dallaire.profile/#cnnSTCText>.

“The Arusha Peace Agreement.” Official Website of the Government of Rwanda. Republic of Rwanda, n.d. Web. 23 June 2013. <http://www.gov.rw/THE-ARUSHA-PEACE-AGREEMENT>.

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Are People Basically Good or Evil?

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I don’t think that people can be necessarily good or evil, but who am I to decide? Like the picture above, it really isn’t anyone’s decision to decide if people are good or evil. It is merely an opinion. In my opinion, I think people fall somewhere in between good and evil, with a few people skewed more to one side than the other. I would say that a person’s actions definitely determine whether they lean more towards the good or evil side. For example, someone who always put others before themselves would be skewed more towards being a good person. But a dictator or leader who kills innocent people for no reason, like many instances in Emergency Sex, they would definitely be a lot closer to evil. However, I don’t think anyone is by definition a good or evil person. Everyone sins whether it’s something big or small. In Emergency Sex, I would definitely say that Ken and Andrew are closer to being a “good” person than Heidi is, but not by much because overall she meant well by her intentions. Throughout the book, Ken and Andrew were always putting the needs of people before them. Heidi seemed a little more into herself and a little too concerned with finding a “lover” while stationed in different areas. While working overseas, her main focus should have been on the reason she was there and that reason was certainly not to find a boyfriend or husband. Several times throughout the book it is mentioned that she was dating someone and a man seemed to be one of her top priorities. Even Ken fell into this realm a few times but certainly not as often as Heidi. I just found it interesting that while in the middle of a warring country with people dying around you every day, she still had the time to be concerned with a “lover.”

Now I’m not saying that someone who is constantly partaking in service trips or peace missions should be considered in the same range as someone who kills people or instructs others to kill them just for the sake of killing someone. The latter of the two would definitely be close to evil but I don’t think God would intentionally put evil people on His earth. I found an article that reinforces my opinion that people fluctuate between good and evil, but are not necessarily one or the other, with the exception of a small percentage of the overall population of the world. In the article Are Humans Good or Evil?, Paul J. Zak says of his research and experience that “five percent of the population who do not have an oxytocin (known as the “love” hormone) response and are pathologically selfish, and another few percent who are nearly pathologically virtuous. The rest of us vacillate between good and evil (Zak).” Zak still believes that a few people are actually good or evil, but for the most part we both share the same opinion that 99.9% of the population is somewhere in between. I think every person at some point in their life, some more than others, have a tendency to do evil acts. I consider sinning an evil act because it goes against what God intended. After attending Catholic school for twelve years, I know the Ten Commandments like the back of my hand, and it has been enforced throughout my twelve years at Catholic school that going against these “rules” so to speak is an evil act.

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Another article that i found, titled Are Humans Inherently Good or Evil?, reinforces another point that I made involving God. It states that “God would not create someone who was inherently evil. People do sin, and some people could even be considered ‘evil,’ but overall I feel that most people do try and lead a good life by being kind to others and helping those in need (E.A.M.)” I definitely agree with this statement and it was the point I was trying to make in my previous paragraph. I think this statement also goes hand in hand with the book Emergency Sex. Ken, Andrew and Heidi definitely sinned throughout the book, but they were still sacrificing their time and risking their lives to be in dangerous places just to help others in need and try to bring peace to a warring nation. However, their sins are evident. At one point in the book, when Heidi is seeing a man named James, she is sleeping with him and says “better they think I’m the devil’s spawn then some movie star,” in regards to women in the village seeing her with this man James (Cain, Postlewait and Thomson, 100.) Also, Andrew is frustrated with someone and thinks in his mind “go to hell (Cain, Postlewait and Thomson, 108.” Wishing anyone to hell is definitely a more “evil” than “good” thought. However, like I said, despite these sporadic acts they still have the intentions to help others.

Overall, I do not think that people are “good” or “evil,” and I also do not think that cultures are basically good or bad either. It is apparent in Emergency Sex that there are some people in various countries that are more evil than others, especially in places like Haiti and Rwanda, which were two places traveled to by Ken, Andrew and Heidi. There were leaders in these countries that had people killed for no reason and by gruesome measures that were completely unnecessary. But just because .0001% of the population was this way, I do not think that makes their culture “evil” or “bad.” They shouldn’t get the reputation of an evil country or culture because of the acts of a few individuals. Generally people in all countries lean more towards “good,” so their country should be recognized as so.

References:

Zak, Paul J. “Are Humans Good or Evil?” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 10 Feb. 2011. Web. 23 June 2013. <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-moral-molecule/201102/are-humans-good-or-evil>.
E.A.M. “Are Humans Inherently Good or Evil?” N.p., n.d. Web. 23 June 2013. <http://web.missouri.edu/~hartmanj/rs150/papers/s1mccoyfs01.html>.
Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone. London: Ebury, 2004. Print.
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