"Treatment for PTSD was all so new, for everyone, and it wasn't perfect by a long shot. I would leave my sessions feeling desperately alone, with nowhere to put the emotions that had been churned up. I felt I was locked into a bubble of horror, and the outside world didn't exist anymore. I wasn't living, only reliving." - Romeo Dallaire, Waiting for First Light.
For anyone who doesn't know, Romeo Dallaire is a Canadian military General who led the United Nations mission in Rwanda leading up to and during the genocide in 1994. Without adequate troops or supplies, he was unable to stop the genocide that happened around him, and he watched as hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered.
He has since been very vocal about his experiences and the lack of aid he received from the international community. His first book Shake Hands with the Devil details the horrors he witnessed in Rwanda. I read Shake Hands with the Devil last summer, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in international relations, human rights, or Canadian military history. But be forewarned: it's not an easy or pleasant read.
Waiting for First Light is also about Rwanda. Unlike Shake Hands with the Devil, Dallaire's newest book is about the aftermath of the mission and the affect his experience had on him. He details his prolonged suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and how it has changed his career, his family life, and his goals for the future.
This book is hard to read. It is well written and insightful, and it challenges the stereotype of masculinity and machismo that we so often see in war movies and in books. But it is also upsetting. Dallaire describes himself as a broken man. He struggles to interact with his family, he can't sleep, he eats terribly, and he cries often. He describes breakdowns and suicide attempts.
Waiting for First Light shows how war and trauma affect the human psyche. Men and women who witness atrocities like the Rwandan genocide may come away without any physical or visible wounds, but they are psychologically injured - sometimes beyond recognition.
While I was reading this book I happened to work on an article about a proposal for a new veteran's medical centre in Nova Scotia. The centre would cater to veterans suffering from physical or mental illness and injuries. It became apparent to me that what Dallaire suffered - and continues to suffer - is all too common, and that the general public is often blind to the struggles veterans face day to day.
I think that this book is an important one to read. It isn't very long and it can be read relatively quickly. It's worth knowing more about an illness that affects so many people, and it's worth understanding how something like what happened in Rwanda could come to pass.
You might also like:
- Shake Hands with the Devil by Romeo Dallaire
- Invisible Injured: Psychological Trauma in the Canadian Military from the First World War to Afghanistan by Adam Montgomery