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Literature / Shake Hands with the Devil

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Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda is a 2003 non-fiction book by Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire and Major Brent Beardsley. The bulk of the book is the account of Dallaire's experiences as force commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) from 1993-1994. Dallaire and UNAMIR are originally tasked with preserving the fragile Arusha Accords, a ceasefire agreement which the UN hopes will be a roadmap to peacefully ending Rwanda's ethnic civil war. UNAMIR is meant to be the neutral force keeping the peace between the Hutu-dominated Rwandan government and the Tutsi militants of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) as the two sides form a multi-ethnic transitional democratic government.

As the situation deteriorates and Rwanda plunges into a bloody genocide Dallaire the rest of UNAMIR do what they can, within the restrictive standing orders imposed by the UN Security Council, to protect civilians and stem the bloodshed as Dallaire desperately tries to convince the UN and major world powers to do something.


The book won the 2003 Shaughnessy Cohen Award for Political Writing and 2004 Governor General's Award for nonfiction. The book also served as the basis for a documentary film about Dallaire's life called Shake Hands With the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire in 2004.

A fictionalized version of Dallaire, played by Nick Nolte, appears in the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda.

This work provides examples of:

  • Badass Baritone: Averted with Dallaire despite what the film shows, he is naturally soft spoken if you watch his interviews.
  • Badass Crew: Dallaire's entire team, save the Bangladeshis. It takes balls to live the way they did.
  • Badass Pacifist: All of UNAMIR. They aren't allowed to fight unless they're attacked first. That doesn't stop them from protecting the refugees.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: The RGF is slaughtering and torturing civilians, while the RPF is shelling civilian places and taking away medical aid.
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  • Blatant Lies: What the Clinton administration said about what they did to help Rwanda. 'Provided $9 million in relief' my ass.
  • The Chessmaster: Paul Kagame
  • Child Soldiers: The RPF and the RGF both use child soldiers... something Dallaire is violently opposed too.
  • Conspicuously Public Assassination: The shooting down of President Habyarimana's plane with surface-to-air missiles (killing both Habyarimana and the President of Burundi) is a major catalyst of the genocide, which begins mere hours later. The identity of the side responsibile remains disputed to this day: most (including the post-genocide Rwandan government) state that Hutu extremists in the government wanted the relatively moderate Habyarimana eliminated, while others say the RPF killed him because of their frustration of the delay in implementing the Arusha Accords.
  • Doorstopper: Over 500 pages, in most versions.
  • Frameup: Used in one of the most depicable ways possible: it is speculated that the RGF had framed the RPF for the murders and gang-rape of six young children.
  • Friend to All Children: Dallaire. In the Prologue, he almost decides to take an orphaned child back to the UN camp in Kigali. He cares deeply about the youth of Rwanda.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Dallaire and UNAMIR are repeatedly attacked by the Hutu-supremacist radio network RTLM, the most influential media outlet in Rwanda. RTLM even calls for their listener to kill Dallaire on sight and, to be safe, kill any other white man with a mustache they see.
    • The RPF could technically count, too, though the hero part is really debatable.
  • Heroic BSoD: Dallaire and troops suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome after all the horrors they've witnessed in genocide.
    • Dallaire himself was seriously suicidal for years after returning to Canada. As he mentioned in the afterword for the book, writing it was his attempt to dispel the demons that haunted him. It was apparently mostly successful, though in speaking engagements and interviews he admits to still having deep-seeded psychological problems.
  • Humans Are Bastards: The subtitle of the book is "The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda". Being deployed in Rwanda during the genocide can show a darker side of humanity.
  • Last Stand: Dallaire remains there to the bitter end.
  • Only Sane Man: Dallaire, sometimes. While the rest of the world refuses to see the scope of the genocide and take action, Dallaire is in the thick of it from start to finish. Especially later on in the book, when Dallaire's two most loyal men, Brent Beardsley and Luc Marchal, are forced to leave UNAMIR.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: After finding out that their family had been slaughtered, some of the RPF soldiers go on this against the Hutus.
  • Self-Harm: Dallaire was known to cut himself after his return.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Romeo Dallaire.
  • Slave to PR: The entire UN, and (surprising no one) the Clinton Administration.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Yes, France, try to to stop the genocide by launching an operation to support the genocidaires.
    • Of course, they were the only foreign combat mission with boots on the ground and succeeded in stopping the Genocide in the territory they deployed in. However, while it also prevented the RPF from pursuing the fleeing Hutus- including the Genocidaires-,the fact that the RPF's response to this was to more or less wage a war in the Eastern Congo, this might be less irresponsible than it seems.
  • Tragic Hero: Dallaire, oh so much.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Just about everybody. The UN, the national heads of state, the genocidaires, the RPF.... everybody. Even Dallaire has been accused of this.
  • Villain Ball: The Genocidaires. Had they not decided to wage genocide, they wouldn't have seen themselves reduced to hated, hunted, and despised escapees fleeing not only from a Rwandan government ruled by their longtime enemy, but also most of the world.


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