Saturday, January 1, 2011

Book Review: Machete Season

MACHETE SEASON: The Killers in Rwanda Speak, Jean Hatzfeld, Picador, 2006, 272 pages, $10.20
Machete Season by Jean Hatzfeld looks at the Rwandan genocide from the point of view of ten Hutu killers interviewed in prison during March 2003.  The ten Hutus in the interviews were a group of associates or friends, a gang- living in the hills of Nyamata in south central Rwanda.  Once the killings began the men left their fields and took their machetes and began cutting their former Tutsi friends and neighbors and didn't stop for nearly 100 days.
The book is organized in short chapters by subject starting with the beginning of the slaughter when the men were gathered into the square and given instructions to kill all the Tutsis the morning after the death of the president.  The men discussed in the interviews the emotion or lack of emotion in their first kills and how they motivated each other to keep killing.  Not only Tutsis were cut, but also moderate Hutus and those that spoke out against the genocide (aka "the Just").  The men mentioned in the interviews how looting was a major motivation in the killing and corrugated steel and the lands of the recently deceased were highly prized.  They were rewarded each day as they returned from the swamps and killing fields with beef and beer and most of the spouses supported their husbands in their new work. 
The most amazing part of the book is when the author asks the killers about their remorse for their actions.  The men for the most part were upset for not being forgiven and felt that they didn't need to change if they wouldn't be forgiven.  They said repeatedly throughout the interviews that they were just following orders and were influenced by peer pressure to continue the cuttings.  Some of their biggest concerns were how they would return to their homes in the hills where they killed their neighbors and try to resume a normal life.
Only one of the ten men in the gang was sentence to death for his role in the genocide and only as he was a local political organizer and helped plan the slaughter.  The others were sentenced to time in prison or were still awaiting sentencing in a traditional court depending to their confessions and age.  The back of the book features a photo of the group and a brief biography of each man, which helps to understand them better.
This book provides valuable insight into the thinking of men who slaughtered thousands of their former friends and neighbors.  The interviews are tinged by their location and can't be taken completely at face value despite the promise of the author to not reveal their content to authorities.  The men undoubtedly held back certain truths and emotions that they thought would get them in trouble or present them in a worse light- but still provide a rare look into the minds of ordinary Rwandans who at the drop of a hat picked up their machetes and nearly exterminated all the Tutsi in their neighborhood.

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