I’ve been watching a lot of politically charged movies lately. A few weeks ago I saw Good Night, and Good Luck, the short and focused account of Edward R. Murrow‘s stand against Joe “Red Scare” McCarthy when no one else would face up to him. It was so inspiring, it actually made me cry. More recently, I saw another Participant Productions movie, Syriana, which though very good was the opposite of inspiring. America’s dependence on the auto and oil industries is terrible, and the lengths to which some will go to preserve the status quo is shocking, whether or not you believe that the events of Syriana could actually happen. (Check out the top corporations on this list of the Fortune 500 to get some idea of who’s making the money in this country.)
Those movies are very topical to what’s going on now in Shrub’s America. But I’ve also been delving into the not-too-distant past of the Clinton administration with a couple of movies about the Rwandan massacres of 1994. In addition to being too Hollywood, Hotel Rwanda struck me as borderline racist a couple of times. However, it inspired me to watch another film, an HBO production called Sometimes in April. Though it was a little clunky and unfocused, it was a lot more honest and disturbing. I won’t list all the scenes that affected me — you should just see it yourself. But I was shaking my head in amazement at one scene that pertains to American politics. The footage in this scene was real, and I very carefully transcribed exactly how this woman spoke. Every “uh” and halting repetition was really there. Here it is, an exchange from a press briefing with State Department spokesperson Christine Shelley, June 10, 1994:
Journalist: What’s the difference between acts of genocide and genocide?
Christine Shelley: Well, I think the, um… As you know, there’s a… there’s a… legal definition of this. There has been a lot of… of discussion about how the definition… um… you know, applies under the definition of the genocide, of genocide contained in the 1948 Convention. Um, if you’re looking at that as for your, um, determination about genocide, um, not, clearly not all of the killings that have taken place in, uh, Rwanda, uhm, are uh, killings, uh, that to which you might apply that label. But it’s, as to the distinctions between the words, we’re trying to call what we have seen so far, um, as– as– as best as we can and based again on, on the evidence we– we have every reason to believe that acts of genocide have occurred.
Journalist: How many acts of genocide does it take to make genocide?
Christine Shelley: Um, Allan, that’s just not a question that I’m in a position to answer.
Journalist: What is an act of genocide, Christine?
Christine Shelley: As defied– defined, in the 1948 genocide Convention: “The crime of genocide occurs when certain acts are committed against members of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group with the intent of destroying that group in whole or in part. The relevant acts include killing, causing serious bodily harm– bodily or mental harm and deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction of the group.”
Journalist: So — wait a minute, you said genocide —
Christine Shelley: That is the definition in the 1948 Convention.
Journalist: …of genocide.
Christine Shelley: Of genocide.
Journalist: OK, so you say genocide happens when certain acts happen, and you say that these acts have happened in Rwanda. So why can’t you say that genocide has happened?
Wow, the woman could hardly be more inarticulate and guilty and weird. My best guess is that she was instructed to avoid the standalone word “genocide” in connection with Rwanda — against all evidence — because the United Nations (and by extension the US, as one of its most powerful members) is obliged to act in the case of genocide. In this case, the US government absolutely did NOT want to act, for two reasons the movie points out: 1) they were still burning from the Mogadishu fuck-up that had happened just six months earlier and 2) there really was nothing in Rwanda that they cared about.
Has anyone ever really fought a war or engaged in a “peacekeeping” mission for moral reasons alone? If ever there was a case for moral action, this was it. But even Clinton and his administration were craven cowards when it came to Rwanda. Ugh.