"Six billion people live in this world, and I can only muster thoughts for one. Me." – Blue Like Jazz, Don Miller
Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
by Jean Hatzfeld, 2005
"No one was going to their fields anymore. Why dig in the dirt when we were harvesting without working, eating our fill without growing a thing?" - Joseph-Désiré, Hutu participant in the Rwandan genocide
Machete Season was written by Jean Hartzfeld, a French journalist who went to the prisons in Rwanda to interview ten Hutu men who took part in the genocide of 50,000 of their Tutsi neighbors. These men who had grown up together went to "work" with their machetes each morning in April and May of 1994 to slaughter every Tutsi they could hunt down. Hartzfeld wanted the story told by the killers so the book is almost entirely quotes by these ten men.
I read Machete Season a couple of years ago and started this post soon after. I wanted to try to explain what I'd learned about human nature because the words of these men struck at the heart of me. They seemed familiar. But I found it difficult to explain or admit how the words revealed me given the level of gruesome detail of their atrocities. Surely there is some significant difference between them and I.
Recently our outXast group finished reading Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller. In the chapter entitled "Problems" he discusses the process of coming face-to-face with your own depravity. He's having a conversation with a friend about the genocide in the Congo and how horrible it is. Then his friend asks him, "Do you think you could do something like that, Don?" Miller really had to think about this and was able to explain what my prejudice couldn't.
You're cornered, you see. If you say yes, I am capable of such things, it makes you flawed, vulnerable, culpable, predisposed, responsible. If you say no, you've made yourself, your essence, your makeup better than those men. Not just the action of one man or even Hartzfeld's ten, but of entire nations of people who commit unspeakable acts! All people are created in the image of God. Just. Like. You. How do you explain that? Don's friend says, "I think it is easier to do bad things than good things. And there is something in that basic fact, some little clue to the meaning of the universe."
I think we have a very common problem in "civilized" societies and worse still, in Christendom, that it's Them and Us, that we're separate. But we've fooled ourselves into thinking we look so much better or at least disappear in the grand scheme of things if we're standing next to a guy with a bloody machete. Thing is, God knows the secrets of the heart; He doesn't need to see your hands.
The quotes below are translated from either French or Kinyarwanda, the Rwandan language. As I read the quotes from these, my human brothers, I was struck by the matter-of-fact way they speak belies the actual stories they're telling. How familiar their excuses sound, even to the point of complaining about how difficult "the work" was.
Alphonse: We slogged through the marshes with a crowd of people to kill. The mud came up to our ankles, sometimes to our knees. The sun hammered our skulls. The papyrus tore our shirts and the skin beneath. Colleagues were watching us. If they saw trembling, they sneered and called us cowards. If they saw hesitation, they grew angry and accused us of treachery. If they saw generosity, they scolded and called us old women. They were quick to abuse us.
In that situation, the jeering of colleagues is awful to overcome if it gets around your neighborhood. It is just the same in school or in the cabaret, but more serious in the marshes. This taunting is a poison in life. You try to protect yourself from it, of course. So you join the camp of the ones doing it. When the killings begin, you find it easier to ply the machete than to be stabbed by ridicule and contempt. This truth is impossible to understand for anyone who was not there beside us.
That is what I want to say. In the tumult of killings, stepping aside is not viable for a person, since that person would then find only his neighbors' backs to talk to about ordinary concerns. Being alone is too risky for us. So the person jumps up at the signal and takes part, even if the price is that bloody work you know.
Pio: At the start of a genocide, there is a cause, a reason, and people who find it worthwhile. The cause does not drift around there by accident; it's even fine-tuned by the intimidators: the desire to win the game for good. But the people it tempts are the ones who just happen to live there. And I was there, at home, when the temptation came calling. I'm not saying I was forced by Satan and the like. Through greed and obedience I found the cause worthwhile, and I ran down to the marshes. But if I had been born in Tanzania or in France, I would have been far away from the commotion and dirty bloodshed.
Simple people cannot resist a temptation like that, not without biblical rescue, not on the hills, anyway. Why? Because of the beautiful words of complete success. They win you over. Afterward the temptation cannot go to prison, so they imprison the people. And the temptation can certainly show up just as dreadful further along.
When someone sees what is in his own best interest come right up to him, and his colleagues as well, he loses no more time in waiting and hesitation, he no longer considers feelings, no longer hears pleas for mercy. He sees Evil in the form of Good and is content with it. He thinks of all he will gain for himself and his family until the end of his days. He follows his own best interest into the swamps.
Afterward he cleans himself of filthy mud and blood the way he downs a Primus. That is what I did. I'm not saying I am not at fault. But I am punished both for my mistake and for my unlucky fate.
Léopord: Through killing well, eating well, looting well, we felt so puffed up and important, we didn't even care about the presence of God. Those who say otherwise are half-witted liars. Some claim today that they sent up prayers during the killings. They're lying: no one ever heard an Ave Maria or the like, they're only trying to jump in front of their colleagues on line for repentance.
In truth, we thought that from then on we could manage for ourselves without God. The proof—we killed even on Sunday without ever noticing it. That's all.
Joseph-Désiré: It became a madness that went on all day by itself. You raced ahead or you got out of the way to escape being run over, but you followed the crowd.
The one who rushed off machete in hand, he listened to nothing anymore. He forgot everything, first of all his level of intelligence. Doing the same thing every day meant we didn't have to think about what we were doing. We went out and came back without having a single thought. We hunted because it was the order of the day, until the day was over. Our arms ruled our heads; in any case our heads no longer had their say.