Books, Ethics and Morals

In defense

This isn’t going to be a long post – it’s a long day, and much to do in it. But I was musing on something and wanted your input on it as well.

I’ve been reading (almost finished) a book called The Bone Woman by Clea Koff, which is the memoir of a young woman who wound up excavating mass graves in Rwanda, Kosovo, Bosnia, and other locales of genocidal mania. It’s an interesting read – more about her thoughts and feelings as she struggles to integrate into the team of scientists and cope with what she’s seeing than it is about the science of forensic anthropology, but that I knew a good bit about already. And not from the TV shows, which are, pardon my righteous indignation, bullsh*t. They do get one thing right, however. Bones do tell a story.

Hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered in Rwanda, and she dug up hundreds of them. She describes their injuries, from the marks left on the bones, and the vast majority of them were killed with machetes. Her team learned as they looked at body after body – some merely bones, others nearly intact if decomposed – that the standard procedure was for the adults to be incapacitated with a cut to the Achilles heel, then blows to the skull (it sounds like two, most often) to finish the victim off. Koff writes that there were nearly no defensive wounds found, and she wonders why. I have to wonder the same thing. I cannot imagine being herded into a church and then watching killers work through the crown, with machetes, and not fighting back. Even if I knew it would mean death – so did merely waiting for them to reach me. Even playing dead was no recourse – they would use tear gas to see who coughed or moved once everyone was dead or dying and lying down, then finish off any survivors.

I cannot imagine it. Not to fight back – especially for the children. There were a lot of children in those churches and stadiums. Sure, dying is nigh with no escape. But hurt them, even a little. There are more of you than of them. Even if it takes ten, or a hundred, to take down one of them… but no. And now there are mass graves full of pathetic little details, and the bones tell the stark tale of defenselessness.

Perhaps it is because I am an American, and we do cling to our guns and our Bibles. Suffer the little children, and throw off the tyrants. Every individual life is worthy of living, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Want to know why I will always oppose lists of people divided by any criteria? Read the book, and come back and tell me how they identified the people who would be killed. Segregation leads to dehumanization. There’s no other way to understand why the killers could do what they did, other than to know they did not consider those they were killing humans. And there is no way for me to understand why no one raised their arms in self-defense, or fought back at all. They just let the killing go on.


6 thoughts on “In defense

  1. They, like the 1930’s Jews thought “God will protect us, even if we do nothing.” Obviously, he didn’t, _because He gave them means of self defense, and they didn’t use them.

  2. “And not from the TV shows, which are, pardon my righteous indignation, bullsh*t. They do get one thing right, however. Bones do tell a story.”

    Heh. You watch “Bones” for the characters, not for the science. The writers seem to be afraid of research. I’ve learned that if they use it, it is most likely wrong. Same for CSI. (Is it even still on the air?)

    “Perhaps it is because I am an American, and we do cling to our guns and our Bibles. Suffer the little children, and throw off the tyrants.”

    Sadly, I think it could happen here too. Perhaps not on the scale of Rwanda, but we need only look at things like Jonestown to know that it can happen anywhere. (Yes, I know Jonestown wasn’t in America, but Jim Jones was American by birth.)

    I may have to see if this book is in our library. (assuming I can find / make time to read it with a dozen other books currently on the TBR list, half of which is for research) ((unlike the Bones writers, I *love* research.))

    On a tangent: have you ever visited “The Crime Fiction Writer’s Forensics Blog”? [] I have found it to be fascinating.

  3. There was no tear gas in Rwanda, but lots of young men with machetes and guns. You point about lists of people is so very important. These people (because of lots of intermarriage) tended to look alike, spoke the same language, ate the same food, had the same customs, and at one time could migrate from one tribal designation to the other. If you became rich enough to own cows, you became a Tutsi. If you lost all your cows, you became a Hutu. But France had a political point to make, and they made it on the bodies of the Tutsis. Now it’s illegal in Rwanda to publicly state your tribal affiliation, illegal for any political party to be composed of only one tribe (so how can you tell if nobody’s allowed to say what they are?) and illegal for less than forty percent of government posts to be composed of women. It’s interesting to watch a country where maybe fifteen percent of the population are murderers struggle to become a modern, safe nation.
    My brother in law, a part time missionary to Rwanda for over fifteen years thinks the lack of fighting back was because the people were so used to obeying authoritarian officials. Everybody had a slot in the hierarchy. Myself, I think it had a lot to do with hopelessness when surrounded by masses of hostile people.

  4. In the gulag archipelago Alex S recommends fighting back and documents a very few who did. He basically says what you are saying the evil is so few who let them overpower the many. Our chains are too often in our minds. I think this rt here should be taught in ever age group. Fight back. Die trying, you might be surprised.

    1. I agree that the chains are in the minds. All the people she was digging up came from countries where the populace either could not, or it was culturally not acceptable to carry firearms. Which would have prevented a lot of this.

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