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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