Excerpted from The Lion, the Fox and the Eagle by Carol Off. Copyright © 2001 by Carol Off. Excerpted by permission of Vintage Canada, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
An interview with Carol Off by Matthew Sibiga
Carol Off has always approached her work with a large measure of passion, whether it be her reporting on the Gulf War or her award-winning television and radio coverage of the war in Bosnia, the plight of women refugees or the fate of war criminals living in Canada. This characteristic passion and incredible energy have now been focused into what may well be the most volatile and controversial book of the year. Carol Off has written a damning indictment of theUnited Nations' failed peacekeeping missions in Rwanda and Bosnia and compelling portraits of the three Canadians — Romeo Dallaire, Lewis MacKenzie and Louise Arbour — at the centre of the storm. Her perspective, which is argued forcefully and without ambiguity, is often contrary to conventional views held on this subject — a particular case in point being the section that deals with the U.N.'s handling of the war in the former Yugoslavia. At its core, the book is a meditation on the nature of morality and justice.
I met with Carol Off in the Random House offices in Toronto to discuss The Lion, the Fox and the Eagle.
Your choice of animals to describe the main actors in your story is interesting. How did you come up with the names?
They came to me instantly. I wanted something to symbolize them in a very simple way. Romeo Dallaire was the lion because of his isolation in Rwanda from the rest of the world. I immediately thought of General MacKenzie as the fox because of how cunning and clever he has been. He can dance circles around people and many could never really be sure where he was coming from. The first thought I had about Louise Arbour was that she was an eagle. She has an eagle eye and was focused on exactly what she wanted to accomplish. She circled her prey when she was in the Hague and lined everything so that she could get the indictment for Slobodan Milosevic. I don't know if Dallaire or MacKenzie are good soldiers. I'm not a military historian and I can't analyze either man in that light. But I do feel that Dallaire is a moral man. I admire him because he believed he was fighting tyranny. Morality was this prism I looked through in my analysis of all three characters in my book. I tried not be judgmental but I knew the book had to be told from the point of view of the people whose lives had been so seriously affected by their actions and not from the point of view of the Canadian government, military or judiciary. It had to be told from the point of view of the people who were powerless: the victims of the genocides.
Since the end of the Korean conflict in 1953, the major occupation of the Canadian military has not been combat duties but rather peacekeeping operations. Has the benevolent image of the Armed Forces suffered in the eyes of the Canadian public since the obvious, catastrophic failures of the Canadian-led missions in Rwanda and Bosnia? Do you think Canadians will have to re-examine the mandate of our military?
I hope that a re-evaluation of the role of our military and its role is the biggest issue this book will raise. Canada has lost 107 peacekeepers over various missions yet we have never been specifically targeted as the Americans were in Somalia and the Belgians were in Rwanda. We have never had to go through the emotional crisis of watching our peacekeepers killed in a horrible way. If we did go through this, I'm not sure how long our love affair with peacekeeping would last, particularly if we, as a nation, witnessed on television one of our dead soldiers being dragged behind a truck as the Americans did in Somalia. We have to re-evaluate this whole fiction we that we should commit troops just to keep warring sides apart. In Bosnia and Rwanda, the fighting was intended to kill as many civilians as possible. You can't "keep the peace," when there is no peace to keep. The first thing to come to terms with is to admit that innocent civilians are being slaughtered and in the case of Rwanda and especially Bosnia, U.N. officials at all levels refused to acknowledge this. In 1999, the U.N. admitted, for the first time, that the difficulty in Rwanda and Bosnia was that it failed to recognize that there were victims and perpetrators. In the past, the U.N. has looked at conflicts like these with an air of neutrality, of moral equivalency — which is the most immoral thing I have ever encountered. The world community — the U.N. — must recognize that innocent people are being killed by vicious tyrants and stand up to them. NATO — not the U.N. — did this in 1999 in Kosovo. People have said that aspects of the NATO operation in Kosovo were badly handled, and I would agree with them. People have also said that we shouldn't have been there and I would disagree with them strenuously. NATO decided it could not allow Milosevic to do this any more and took action.
NATO intervened in Kosovo and risked airmen's lives (a much easier sell to the general public than committing ground troops) in order to save the lives of white Europeans. Do you think racism is a factor in whether or not the decision is made to commit western troops to a Third World conflict?
I definitely think there is racism involved, but most importantly it is a media issue. Decisions on how and where to intervene are based in large part on what is being beamed into the living rooms of the general public. With the situation in Kosovo, NATO action was precipitated by the horrific TV images we received daily, but Africa simply does not get the same volume of press attention needed to get the west to act.
Relatively speaking, who had a more difficult job, Robert Jackson, chief Allied prosecutor at the Nuremberg trial or Louise Arbour, chief prosecutor for war crimes in the Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia?
I think Arbour had a tougher time because she did not have the same kind of political will behind her to prosecute that Jackson had at Nuremburg. Jackson had the force of the Allies behind him — most of whom wanted to see the German leaders hang. There was also a massive paper trail in the wake of World War Two that made the Allied prosecution easier. Arbour had very little paper documentation but she did have a large number of witnesses who could testify. The problem is that many of the witnesses are destroyed on the stand by vicious, high priced — and frequently American — defence attorneys. In the former Yugoslavia, corruption is very common among accused war criminals as well as the lawyers hired to defend them, so the whole process is very difficult. In Rwanda Arbour had an even tougher time with corruption than in the former Yugoslavia, owing to the complete lack of infrastructure to conduct investigations and trials. Yes, Arbour definitely had a tougher time than Jackson.
What aspect of your book will generate the most controversy?
I think the section on Lewis MacKenzie will receive a lot of attention because he is considered a hero to many Canadians. He is revered as a symbol of how we want to be perceived internationally. I also question the role he plays in our collective imagination. In Sarajevo many of the citizens referred to peacekeepers — whom they loathed — as "MacKenzies." Almost all of the material in the section about MacKenzie came directly from him. He is an extremely charismatic and charming man. He is funny and fearless; people from all over the world were interviewing MacKenzie and were interested in what a Canadian had to say and we felt proud of that. He was also telling people what they wanted to hear, which was, not to intervene because these were crazy ethnic tribes killing one another and they were not worthy of our help. When we were hearing reports of 13-year-old girls being gang-raped, of massacres and of men being held in cages wallowing in their own excrement, and these reports turned out to be true, we didn't know how to act or respond and we felt impotent as a result. So if someone like MacKenzie comes along and tells you the stories are lies, we feel better about it. The fact remains that an extremely large Bosnian Serb army descended on Bosnian Muslims and blasted them. MacKenzie had succeeded in convincing people that the war in Bosnia was a fair fight — which it most certainly was not — and that we should stay out of it. This moral equivalency was wrong and immoral.
What needs to be done in the future to prevent another Rwandan or Bosnian type of disaster?
Peacekeeping as we know it does not work in these types of situations. There was a recent report from the United Nations proposing that it implement Dallaire's rapid reaction force to respond to future crises, but it would still remain under the auspices of the Security Council. If the Security Council did not want that force to be deployed it would not go in to the conflict zone. I believe this to be the route to go. I think our armed forces have to be increased. We spend far too little on our military, and Canadians have to change the way we look at peace and conflict. We led the way in objecting to air strikes in Kosovo on the grounds that we did not want to appear as though we were submitting to American and European pressure to get involved. Our initial response — which I believe wrong — was a knee-jerk reaction that did not look at the issue at hand: the plight of the refugees being expelled from Kosovo. I admire Dallaire because he felt he was fighting tyranny; and for Arbour to indict Milosevic while he is still the leader of a country is revolutionary — the idea that there is no such thing as sovereignty to protect tyrants is a huge step in the right direction.
Have western governments accepted this idea that sovereignty offers no protection against war crimes — particularly if, hypothetically, NATO was committing war crimes in their bombing campaign against Serbia?
I'm not sure they have accepted this idea, but I would bet that Wesley Clark thought about how he was going to conduct his bombing campaign after Arbour told him, "I'm watching." We certainly know that Milosevic changed his ethnic cleansing policies in Kosovo because he saw what Arbour did in Bosnia. If a sovereign leader thinks there is a possibility that they might be prosecuted for war crimes, he might think twice about committing these acts. It is what the rule of law is all about. Leaders don't know what the war crime tribunal's reach will be. It may never reach the corridors of power in Washington — but it is progress.
Interview reprinted with permission. Copyright Random House Canada.
From the Hardcover edition.