Thursday, April 12, 2012

They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children by Romeo Dallaire

Romeo Dallaire is very well-known in Canada. This retired Lieutenant-General was part of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda in the 90’s and is now an author, senator and humanitarian. In this book, he writes about his experiences with child soldiers and his continuing mission to eradicate this abhorrent practice.

There were a few aspects of the book that I did not like. Dallaire included a couple of fictional excerpts based on the experiences of a child soldier and a peacekeeper. These seemed out of place and I am surmising that Dallaire inserted them to help us better visualize the situation and share the feelings of the people involved.  However, I have no doubts that any of the real-life stories he could tell us would be even more poignant and disturbing.

The chapters seem to oscillate between presentations of the cold hard facts and emotional appeals. The final chapter is a lengthy and impassioned plea to young people. Dallaire asks them not to give up hope but to consider what each of them can do to change the world for the better. Reading it made me realize that the entire book sounds much like a mix of conference presentations and inspirational speeches.  I could imagine Dallaire making a huge impact speaking live, but something seems lost when his thoughts are put into writing. Also, there seemed to be an excessive amount of time spent on telling us what most of us already know or suspect, such as: humanitarian NGOs and the military have different points-of-view and have difficulty working together.

Despite these criticisms, I would still recommend this book, if only so that people spend some time contemplating this difficult and important issue that doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves in the media. It is particularly interesting to read about this problem from the point-of-view of a high-ranking military official. Usually, books about such issues are written by members of humanitarian organizations. It is not uncommon for civilians to think of military people as cold, aloof, and desensitized to the atrocities of war, but Dallaire does not fit this stereotype and shows, on the contrary, how devastating encounters with child soldiers are for adult peacekeepers. Indeed, it would be a very good thing if military leaders around the world looked at these issues as thoughtfully and comprehensively as he does.

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