Maj. Greta Railsback said she wasn’t really aware of the genocide in Rwanda in the mid-1990s until she watched the 2004 movie, “Hotel Rwanda.”
“I felt like a stupid American,” she said.
When given the opportunity at the Command and General Staff College to learn more about preventing genocide and mass atrocities, she took it. Railsback, a student in the 2012-01 Intermediate Level Education class, wrote a short paper on “Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda,” by Romeo Dallaire, lieutenant general with the Canadian Forces, who worked with the U.N. Assistance Mission for Rwanda and watched the genocide unfold. Dallaire attempted to warn the international community, but got little response. Roughly 1 million died in the ethnic cleansing, and millions more became refugees.
After taking several classes in CGSC’s Genocide and Mass Atrocity Studies Program, Railsback said she feels better prepared to confront genocide should she encounter it as a U.S. military officer.
“Don’t turn your back on it,” she said. “We have to be aware of what it is. We have a tendency to say that’s their culture, that’s their sovereignty. But as leaders or Soldiers you don’t want to turn your back on something that could change the fate of a nation.”
The year-old program was formulated after the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act provided funding to educate officers about the prevention of genocide, said Jim Thomas, Department of Command and Leadership. About 90 students have benefited from the focused elective program, which includes required courses on mass atrocity response operations and war crimes, as well as courses on military issues with refugees and displaced persons, peace operations, stability operations and other related issues. Students who complete the program, and achieve a master of military arts and science degree on a related topic, qualify for a new U.S. Army Personal Development Skill Identifier, Code E9C, Genocide Prevention.
Students in the MARO course learn from a book with the same title, “Mass Atrocity Response Operations,” a collaborative effort from the U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute at the Army War College and the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. The handbook guides military planners responding to genocide.
About a dozen CGSC students in the MARO class had the opportunity May 2 to meet with an expert from the PKSOI at the Army War College, Dwight Raymond, and CGSC Deputy Commandant Brig. Gen. Gordon Davis on the subject of mass atrocities. Davis served in Africa to assist refugees from the Rwandan genocide, the Bosnian genocide and victims of mass atrocities in other African countries. Students had the opportunity to ask Davis how the U.S. Army responded to these situations.
A newer book, “Mass Atrocity Prevention and Response Operations: A Policy Planning Handbook,” written at the PKSOI and edited by Raymond, gives government policymakers guidelines for preventing mass atrocities. It emphasizes how to work with the U.S. government systems to establish a quick response to prevent mass atrocities.
Maj. Laurence Christian, an ILE student in the 2012-01 class, said he’s taking the MARO book with him anytime he gets deployed. He’s learned from reading about the mistakes of others on how to prevent secondary problems from mass atrocities as well. For example, if a large group of people flees, host countries have to make good preparations to help them.
“If you have a million individuals, they need three meals a day,” he said. “When dealing with that number of refugrees, how do you house them? The numbers boggle the mind, in terms of housing and santitation.”
Christian said he also got some tips for being a good leader to Soldiers witnessing the effects of a mass atrocity.
“How do you explain to those 18-year-olds what they’re seeing?” he asked.
Students also noted that a mass atrocity has a much wider-ranging definition than just ethnic cleansing or genocide. Mass atrocities can include widespread rape as well, or widespread slavery. Students have written about several of these historic subjects, including mass atrocities committed against Native Americans.