- Rwanda Since the 1994 Genocide
Rwanda Since the 1994 Genocide

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First Kill PCON movie response #1

By dagan on January 29, 2013

After watching First Kill, I was struck (as a PCON major, yet once again) by the potential for man to kill another fellow human being. Particularly interesting was the psychological effect that war has on people. How can it be that people who have never experienced war or violence before are so attracted to it? Where do people get the “thrill”? People may watch videos, hear stories – but there seems to be something beyond those things that draws people – rather forcefully – to do unimaginable things. As one interviewee stated: “I just had a very strong attraction to war. I didn’t believe in the war, but I believed in my being there. I wanted to see war for complicated reasons, I can’t explain.” On killing another human being, another said: “It was a rush; it was a high you couldn’t even imagine. So you keep on killing.” From what I have learned about the Rwandan genocide, scholars have noted how people were not attracted to the killing because Rwandans felt a certain hate towards their neighbors. After all, both Burnett and Umutesi from this week’s reading note how people lived in a symbiotic relationship with one another, sharing similar customs, language, and religion. What, then, did attract people to kill – and continue to kill in such a horrific manner? It seems from other outside readings (Straus, for example, in his book The Order of the Genocide) that people killed because they were left with little to no choice but to participate. It was either life or their own death. This, however, does not explain the brutality of it all – people being hacked by machetes; pants pulled down and suffering genital mutilation; etc. Even in the film, First Kill, what explains the brutality for putting an electrical wire down a woman’s throat and in her vagina and shocking her to death? How can that be necessary, or even fathomable? What thrill do people get from that? What do those actions accomplish apart from killing? What do they tell us about the potential for human impact?

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By dagan on January 29, 2013

I found today’s reading to be particularly interesting, especially considering my thesis topic. Beyond that, however, it was intriguing to understand that Hutu and Tutsi – as social identities – were often constructed pre-genocide, reflective of Hamitic/racist stereotypes. These stereotypes cut across any semblance of identity shared by common religion, language, or cultural customs that both Burnett and Umutesi note in their work. It was the ideas formulated by Belgian colonists – the Tutsi being tall, slender and light skinned; the Hutu being short, stockier and having a wider nose – that became internalized by the population at large. People started to believe in these constructions, rather than seeing their commonalities. Jennie Burnett notes how one of her informants, Antoinette, was categorized by her family as Hutu – “yet many Rwandans assumed that Antoinette was Tutsi based on her appearance. Antoinette was very beautiful, with ‘cow’s eyes,’ straight teeth, a shapely physique, and a demure grace” (53). Similarly, Umutesi notes her experience in school when a group of boys invaded a dormitory to throw the Tutsi out. “They started poking around and looking at the ends of our noses to decide who was Hutu and who was Tutsi. They were completely misinformed” (Umutesi, 10). It is this last part of Umutesi’s passage that sticks out to me – how could people have really known who was “Hutu” and who was “Tutsi”? If racial stereotypes were not in fact true, then how could one tell the difference? Did the mixing of families not mean anything? What makes someone’s identity permanent? Is identity as fluid today as it was pre-genocide? (For further reading with more examples of this Hamitic internalization by Rwandans, I suggest people to read Lee Ann Fujii’s book Killing Neighbors: Webs of Violence in Rwanda (2009)).