I do not know war.
Most of my generation and those that followed me also would not know war except what is reported. There are, however, thousands of Canadians that have fought in a theatre of combat who have experiences I will never know. For those who have served and have comeback home, Roméo Dallaire’s latest book should be a textbook for all Canadians to read. It is a testament of what we as a country need to do for our active and retired soldiers.
In Waiting for First Light – My Ongoing Battle with PTSD, Retired Lieutenant – General Romeo Dallaire addresses his life after Rwanda and the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, his struggles to understand what is happening to him and how he separated his public life from the darkness he faced when the lights were off and he was not at work.
Without being able to understand what his actions were doing to his brain, Dallaire dives into wanting to tell of the horrors of the Rwandan genocide almost immediately after being relieved of his duties (at his request). Dallaire believes that this will be the only way to exorcise the nightmares and endless nights of no sleep. It is only the ‘first light of day’ that saves him from any harm he might do to himself.
He writes how his medical release from the army allowed him to dedicate more time to exposing the genocide in Rwanda, fighting to ensure children will no longer be used as soldiers. While retirement from the army was meant to give him more time to heal, that time was used instead for more speeches, interviews and to make sure the Dallaire Institute would be successful in preventing the enlistment of child soldiers. He knows what he is doing is not helping, but he does not know any other way. It seems only after a widely reported night of an drunk blackout does he fully recognize how his PTSD is affecting him. In one passage writes that after several failed suicide attempts, he knows that killing himself is not how he will go out.
One of the more difficult sections of the book deals with the effects of the Rwandan genocide, even on those who did not serve there. Sian Canfield, a CBC journalist, worked Dallaire, sorting through 1000’s of pages of documents and recorded 100’s of hours of interviews with Dallaire in preparation for the book Shaking Hands with the Devil. She worked the hours he did, long hours. Sian had been to Rwanda and as a reporter had faced other very difficult scenes of her own. Early morning, June 1st 2002, she left a message saying goodbye. Moments later she jumped into the Don River in Toronto, Rwanda was taking lives long after the genocide ended.
Reading Waiting for First Light started as an exercise for me to better understand what my work on Parliament Hill with the Opposition Veterans Affairs Critic John Brassard should be about, to help MP Brassard in his duties to advocate for Canada’s Veterans. Dallaire is not kind to former Prime Minister Harper, I am OK with that. Dallaire holds all government responsible to assist Veterans, especially Peacekeepers and soldiers from conflicts going back to Somalia – any theatre of operation Canadians served in after the Korean War. This book will be with me on Parliament Hill, it will be a reminder of what needs to be done to better prepare our soldiers for life after combat.
I have had Dallaire’s book Shake Hands with the Devil on a book shelf for years. I unknowingly have not been prepared to crack it open. Having read Waiting for First Light, I am now ready to read his account of Rwanda and will always have in mind Dallaire’s, unknown to him at that time, struggles with Occupational Stress injury and PTSD.
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