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Mar16FriAs a defender of the innocents of the world, retired Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire finds common cause with The Salvation Army March 16, 2012
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He's been called a genuine Canadian hero, and few would dispute that.
As a decorated 35-year veteran with the Canadian Forces, retired Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire is best known for his courageous service as the leader of the United Nations Observer Mission—Uganda and Rwanda (UNOMUR) and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) in 1993 and 1994, which he recounts in his book Shake Hands With the Devil. Dallaire was awarded the Meritorious Service Cross in recognition of his exceptional leadership and professionalism, and for the great moral courage he showed in the face of genocidal horror.
Upon his return home, his bravery took the form of frankly acknowledging his struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In so doing, he helped dozens of his fellow soldiers deal with their own personal demons while educating the public in the process.
Appointed to the Canadian Senate in 2005, Dallaire published They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children in 2010, where he states, “The ultimate focus of the rest of my life is to eradicate the use of child soldiers and to eliminate even the thought of the use of children as instruments of war.”
Ken Ramstead and Linda Leigh interviewed Dallaire in Toronto.
Have you seen a shift in Canada's peacekeeping role since you started soldiering?
The old days of the Canadian blue berets, whom everybody wants there as a referee because two nation states need to be refereed as they sort out their problem over a peace agreement, are over.
In an era of imploding nations and civil wars, there is an absolute requirement to protect the moderates and the innocents from being massively used and abused. We are now in an era where the use of force is required and we must be prepared to use it.
How do you feel about the change from peacekeeper to peacemaker?
I believe we have a responsibility to protect others. We must be prepared to defend and protect the civilian population. That's why we see the use of force—not because we want to invade or subjugate a country, but because we want to prevent massive abuses of human rights.
What are your recollections of The Salvation Army?
As a youth, I remember The Salvation Army on the street corners in downtown Montreal, but it was really in Germany that we soldiers were grateful for the presence of the Sally Ann and the Red Shield organization. That was where we went for a home-cooked hamburger or to purchase a special gift at the thrift shop. When we were deployed in Germany in the early 1970s, there wasn't much happening and so it was a very useful place for families to go. It was cheap and it was attentive. The Salvation Army also deployed with us on manoeuvres, sometimes for two months at a time. Whether with hot coffee or a word of support, they were there for us.
What stands out for you about The Salvation Army?
The perseverance of wanting to continue to serve, and to serve sacrificially. When I joined the Canadian Forces, my father said to me, “Don't expect anybody to say thank you.”
I am of the opinion that The Salvation Army is not an outfit that does what it does to seek adulation and recognition like many other groups, who I feel are a bit unethical in how they operate. The Salvation Army doesn't have that at all. You are there just to serve.
When you think about The Salvation Army, what three things come to mind?
Mission-focus, commitment, discipline.
How was your faith shaken and renewed through your experience in Africa?
As the title of my book says, I shook hands with the devil, men who were not human anymore. They were completely taken over by evil, the devil, whatever you want to call it.
The other side of it was, in a moment of enormous duress, when we were about to be attacked, I had no military capabilities, and I was not sure whether my troops would actually fight to defend and protect the people under our care. There was a sense when I was alone in my office that night with the window open and the lights closed, that a positive entity brushed me. It was instantaneous and there was no doubt that I was going to pursue matters to the end.
And so as much as I believe evil exists, I also believe that good exists.
Are there any flashpoints in the world that give you concern now?
I'm very concerned about the autocracies and dictatorships that exist in a number of countries in Africa where nations were starting to pull themselves out of servitude, only to encounter a new generation of rulers who have not wanted to give up and have fiddled with their constitutions to enable them to hold on to power. It reaffirms my belief that while democracy is a very difficult concept to instil and sustain in a society, it's still the best system by far. But we need to do a better job of selling its merits to the people.
Do you still struggle with PTSD?
Yes, I'll give you an example. The summer before last, my wife and I became grandparents for the first time. That Easter, we were all home while my granddaughter was learning to walk. We were in the living room when she fell and hit her head on a table. It wasn't serious but she started crying. Everyone rushed over to her—except me. I didn't move.
What I heard and saw the moment she hit her head and started to cry was the thousands of children dying of thirst, abandoned and mutilated. I had to go into another session of therapy and have my medication adjusted just to be able to pick up my grandchild again without going into a horrific state of stress.
And that's 17 years after.
With all the blood spilled, is it even possible to have true reconciliation between the Hutus and the Tutsis?
Yes, I think that reconciliation in any conflict is possible. In this case, reconciliation can only be long-term, and the political structures have to be patient, but it will come through if three components are in place:
First, the empowerment of women is crucial. The existing male-dominated societies simply can't do it on their own. Women need to be empowered so that they can influence, adjust and accept what needs to be done. And if the women accept that reconciliation needs to occur, then the men will have no options.
Secondly, education. The youth need intellectual discipline to identify the problem and adapt to find solutions.
The third component is respect. If you instill respect on both sides, then it becomes a level playing field.
Building on Hope
Excerpts from a speech given by Roméo Dallaire at the annual Salvation Army Hope in the City breakfast in Toronto:
I'm comfortable speaking at a Salvation Army function. I like the uniforms and ranks, I like the collars, and so there is a real familiarity here. I hope you in the audience also feel at ease with having The Salvation Army as representatives in uniform accomplishing their task of mission.
The Salvation Army is in the business of human beings. This whole breakfast this morning, this campaign leading up to Christmas, is a campaign about human beings, about some who are going to assist others. And The Salvation Army is doing it, not because some in our society are underprivileged compared to others but because they consider them equal and they consider it fair. They consider it essential that everyone be treated equally to be able to thrive, for them to do more than survive, for them to have and continue to build on hope.
This premise is fundamental to how Canadians perceive ourselves, our nation and where we are going in the future.