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Canadian General Romeo Dallaire would have been the first to see these skulls when blood still dripped.

When leaders learn from “sh_t-hole” nations

    Saturday, January 20, 2018 -- (Long Beach, CA) -- In 1994, the new American president -- a man with great hair who no one expected to win -- was busy reinventing government.

    Across the world, in a sh_t-hole nation that held zero strategic value to the world’s biggest super-power, the new President either could send American commitment to save lives, or turn its back and do nothing.

    Rwanda in a small nation in the center of Africa, almost the edge of the continent’s largest lake. Tall hills. Dense forests. Lush soil. No major city. No real wealth. One significant airport.

    Fewer people live in Rwanda then in Los Angeles county or the city of New York. And living there are two distinctly different groups of Black Africans.

    Much of the history of that nation involved one group killing the other. Generally, the killers held power and what little wealth there was in the country. The periodical killings rained blood into the waters of Africa’s largest lake and the lush soil.

    So while the new American president turned his back to focus on bigger things, the regime holding power in Rwanda began a public outreach through the radio, calling the powerless group the worst names. They were cockroaches, said the President, and murderers were instructed on the radio to get ready to kill.

    As American leaders focused on reinventing government, our neighbor to the north -- Canada -- was given a job by the United Nations to lead an military observation of how things were falling apart in central Africa.

    A Canadian general -- Romeo Dallaire -- commanded an international hodgepodge army, with strick limits on what they could do in case murders happened in front of them. Yes, they can defend themselves. But if blood rained around them, they could only observe.

    The American with great hair who no one expected to win didn’t see reason to commit US troops or supplies to the U.N. forces sent to observe the falling apart of Rwanda. We would gain no wealth or strategic military value, and our own troops had just suffered the horror of Somalia, when another president did something, but dead bodies or our forces were dragged by an enemy laughing at our loss.

    The regime in power sent the order over the radio. “Kill the cockroaches.”

    General Romeo Dallaire had just arrived and forces from other African nations -- and all over the world -- were still on their way.

    The murders began, mostly by use of the machete. Within a hundred days, more than 700,000 killings bled the soil and waters. No one was safe, except the observers, who also defended their lives. They stood unable to push down the killers, as bodied rotted and filled morgues.

    As part of the job given by the United Nations, General Dallaire had to meet with the killers, so as to hopefully bring an end to the murders.

    Meanwhile, the group being subjected to genoside had their own army, led by a man named Paul Kagama. He was simply a skilled general who led a disciplined army on a mission of bloody conquest against the murderous regime.

    As General Kagama marched through the blood, Romeo Dallaire had to shake hands with the murderers and beg that the butchery end. In his own book about the terror of war, Dallaire’s title described one awful moment, when the murderers he met with literally had wet blood dripped from their hands. The Canadian general had to wipe blood from his own palm, after shaking hands with the Devil.

    Paul Kagama and his disciplined army finally won a horrible war ina “sh_t-hole” country. No one gained victory, but simply endured their own witnessing of the Devil’s torture.

    Like the killing fields of Cambodia, and the carved of Yugoslavia into slivers of blood, the people of Rwanda had to rebuild a nation.

    The general who defeated the Devil’s army himself took the presidency, and Paul Kagama remains in power of a small “sh_t-hole” nation, with no wealth, no cities, and strategic value... except that they exist.

    The American president with the great hair who had done nothing later said that his failure to help end the killings in Rwanda was his lowest tide of measurement of his eight years in office.

    The leader who followed as the American president could have turned his back. The war was over. A disciplined army led by a highly-skilled military leader had survived and taken power.

    All America had to do was nothing, and our own president -- a compassionate conservative man from Texas -- could simply have nodded about the failure of America and that the prior president was a divider, not uniter.

    As historians hash through the pages of news to determine how presidents can be judged, it is unlikely that any American leader of the last eighty years will hold the rank of having been truly “great.” We have only three who historians give that title -- George Washington, for having defeated a King killing our people; Abraham Lincoln, for facing violent rebellion so as to reunite an imperfect Union; and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for having saved the American people from a collapsed economy, and led the world to victory against the Devil’s murderous thugs.

    Certainly, the smiling man of Texas could have done nothing for that one “sh_t-hole” nation, but he took it upon his job to do what no prior US president had ever done, which was to care about the continent of Africa, and lift his own fingers to make things happen.

    Yes, his economic outreach increased trade and development, and the engagement with rich businesses allowed oil to sell. But it is his own handshaking with Paul Kagama, and others from “sh_t-hole” nations, that will be seen by historians as worthy of kind regard. No, he won’t be called “great.” Probably not even “near-great” or even “good.” Such is the work of historians, who sit in quiet offices to write books covered with dust.

    The man from Texas briefly drew our own people together, after organized killers stole 3,000 American souls from the glory of God’s greatest treasure. For just that short moment, Americans reached across the aisle, and while it could not be determined what truly was truth, and wars that followed was begun in the fog of chaos. But each moment facing a decision is an action where a leader must learn what is right.

    Said another failed president -- whose own first two years truly ranked as “great” for historians -- the difficulty for leaders is, “Not to DO what is right, but to KNOW what is right.”

    In a divided nation, every action is met by fury. No matter who followed Franklin Roosevelt, each hobbled through the White House, smacked down by opponents, and weakened by their own party when tough decisions were heavier then lawmakers wished to shoulder.

    And since every human soul is imperfect, absolutely it is seen that Richard Nixon was not the only man in the Oval Office who was broken.

    But if the newest president spends more time tweeting and admiring his beautiful hair and a hat that looks great, then his eyes are truly blind, for he cannot see that shaking hands with the Devil includes blood of his own citizens boiling and dripping upon the lush soil and beautiful waters of the luckiest land of God’s green earth.

-- Billy Orton

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Billy Orton is a novelist and historian living in Long Beach, California.