Forgive the unforgivable

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As mentioned in class, in 2016 we had a special guest on campus, Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire. Leading a 1993 United Nations peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, Lt.-Gen. Dallaire became convinced that large-scale ethnic violence was imminent. He warned his superiors and pleaded for additional troops and ammunition, but instead, the UN ordered him to withdraw. Believing that it would be immoral to leave, he stayed behind in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, with around 500 troops to protect as many people as possible. That decision is credited with saving more than 30,000 lives. And yet, since that time he has attempted suicide twice, struggled with alcoholism, and suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In a recent talk he gave on a university campus, a student in the audience asked whether or not Dallaire has been able to forgive the perpetrators and bystanders of the Rwandan genocide, to which he replied, “How can I forgive them when I haven’t been able to forgive myself yet for failing?”

Juxtaposing this with all of the other personal narratives we have learned about thus far, how do we forgive ourselves when we have been witness to “unforgivable” things? For example, what should Israeli newsman Shlomi Eldar do to move forward in forgiving himself for being part of the Israeli society that bombed the apartment of his close friend, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, and killed three of Abuelaish’s daughters and his niece? What about those former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants we read about vis-à-vis the Forgiveness Project, and the acts of violence they admitted to have carried out? And what about Lt.-Gen. Dallaire? (There are similar narratives in this upcoming week’s RR, whether in relation to Sierra Leone or South Africa.) Yes, it is one thing to “pull the trigger” and another to watch it being pulled, but all of us hold ourselves to different standards in terms of responsibility.

In sum, the questions to address in this week’s CRP are:

  • How do we forgive ourselves when we have been witness to “unforgivable” things, whether as official representatives of a group (i.e., military) or mere civilians?
  • How would you process your own self-forgiveness if you were a witness to an atrocity?
  • How would you recommend some of these individual’s deal with their own process of self-forgiveness?

Even if you can’t answer the first and second questions above, everyone can respond to the third one.

Here are some related readings for examples

German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer

  • Article on his apology – here

German Chancellor Willy Brandt and the Kniefall

French President Jacques Chirac’s apology for the wrongs of the Holocaust

  • Full speech – here

Vatican Apology in relation to the Holocaust

  • 1998 – Text of apology – here
  • 1998 – BBC story – here
  • 1998 – Washington Post article – here
  • 1998 – New York Times article – here
  • 2000 – New York Times article – here
    The United States and Rwanda
    • Clinton Administration on “acts of genocide” vs. “genocide” – here (pt. I of Frontline piece –here)
    • Article on meaning behind using the term “genocide” – here (or here)
    • President Bill Clinton press conference on July 22, 1994 – here
    • President Bill Clinton apology, March 25, 1998 – here (full speech – here and transcript of apology – here)
    • Article about Clinton’s apology and his meeting with Rwandan genocide survivors, which took place in private prior to the public apology – here (or here)
    • Interview with Clinton in 2012 – here
    • Interview with Clinton in 2014 – here

Maximum : 250 words

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