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How can we remember Rwandan genocide when we don’t learn about it?

The Genocide Memorial Church in western Rwanda collects skulls found underneath its sanctuary and displays them as a reminder of lives lost to genocide. | Courtesy of Adam Jones


The U.N. commemorates April 7 as the Day of Remembrance of the Rwandan Genocide, a day to reflect on the horrors that took the lives of 800,000 innocents 24 years ago. The history of the Rwandan genocide is one that is barely recognized in U.S history books and strikes a deep discomfort within us.

This discomfort is not enough for us to aide the citizens of six countries who are currently in the midst of genocide.

We cannot honor a history we do not present in our curricula or our public policy. Our selective amnesia, which leads to diplomatic unresponsiveness and general ignorance, extends to every genocide and prevents us from preventing them in the future.

It is not that we do not remember; instead, we have chosen to forget.

In Rwanda, neighbors murdered neighbors. Hutu husbands murdered their Tutsi wives. Tutsi women were raped as an act of war, spiking the country’s HIV rate and plaguing innocent women and their newborns.

The Tutsis, the minority, were swiftly and methodically murdered by the Hutus, the majority. There was no escape as the borders were blocked and the country sunk into a manhunt for Tutsis. The Hutus used radio and television to spew propaganda that mandated the death of the Tutsis. It was especially easy to quickly identify people of the Tutsi ethnicity due to the group classification ID introduced by the Belgian colonial government. The existence of an ethnic ID card introduced the rigidity of a racial concept that had never existed before.

The country was left in ruins as survivors struggled to bring the wrongdoers to justice. The United States and the U.N. claimed to be unaware of the violence, but some months before killings began, a U.N. general sent an infamous “genocide fax” warning of the plot to exterminate the Tutsis.

President Bill Clinton was apprehensive about any deployment after the catastrophe in Somalia that cost 18 U.S lives. Eighty-five percent of citizens at the time were categorized as neither well informed nor interested in foreign policy, and there would be no support for deployment of solders in Rwanda.

People in the United States have a shallow understanding of genocide. Political discourse and misinformation have tainted its meaning, and that led to an insensitivity toward Rwandan victims.

The education system presents a distorted version of the Holocaust, the most well known genocide in our curriculum. We learn about the event and its victims but not the about the socioeconomic conditions that surrounded it. It is a challenge to prevent such conditions from arising again when we aren’t even taught what they are.

Anne Frank’s diary is the crux of that curriculum because it is so well documented, but her most iconic quote — “In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart” — does not reflect the reality of these grim years.

U.S. history curricula skim over the transition from ghettos to concentration camps and propaganda in the media about the Jewish and the other victims of the Holocaust, such as LGBT and/or disabled survivors. The Holocaust is understood as an isolated incident, an anomaly in history, as opposed to an event the Nazis had been slowing introducing since Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. 

The world was horrified when the true atrocities came to light, and there was a global consensus that this could never happen again.

That resolve lasted for 49 years. It took 100 days and 800,000 lost lives for the Rwandan Genocide to make history as the quickest-ever killing spree.

We should commemorate the 24th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide not only by acknowledging those victims but by remembering other genocides, such as the Armenian and Kurdish, in our history and by aiding the ongoing ones, such as in Myanmar and Syria. Human life is precious, and we owe it to the victims to remember them as complex individuals, just like us, who dreamed, hoped and yearned.


Opinion columnist Janet Miranda is a marketing junior and can be reached at [email protected].

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