NPR’s “Fresh Air,” a daily interview program hosted by Terry Gross, often comes under attack for what conservative critics call its liberal bias. Most famously with regard to Fox talk host Bill O’Reilly, who stormed off the show mid-interview after accusing Gross of — well, it’s hard to say exactly, since he was sputtering at the time. He seemed upset that she wasn’t as chummy with him as she was with satirist Al Franken.
More commonly, though, conservative critics accuse NPR and Terry Gross of simply ignoring the bedrock values conservative Americans subscribe to. A phrase that gets tossed about is “moral relativism.”
Which is why yesterday’s broadcast caught our attention. Gross interviewed Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, who in 1994 led the U.N. contingent of troops that was forced by international indifference to stand down and watch as Rwandan genocidaires murdered 800,000 of their countrymen in 100 days. General Dallaire discusses the political and economic context of the massacre most Western media dismissed as “tribal,” but he also uses the decidedly unrelative term of “evil” to explain what happened.
ERRY GROSS: General Dallaire, your book, Shake Hands with the Devil, is about your experiences leading the UN peacekeeping troops in Rwanda just before and during the genocide. The title again is “Shake Hands with the Devil.” In your book, you write, ‘In Rwanda, I shook hands with the devil, so I know there is a god. I know the devil exists, and therefore I know there is a god.’ Who was the devil? Do you think of the devil that you shook hands with as being one person or more of a group phenomenon?
Gen. DALLAIRE: Well, there was one person in particular, and, in fact, there were his sort of sidekicks in the militia leaders. I had to negotiate with these guys, although I had an option also of shooting them between the eyes. But I’m not sure that would have provided anything for their structures were so strong that they would have replaced them, and then the whole force would have been, again, vulnerable. But what I saw in those people, in their eyes, was not the eyes of human beings. It was the eyes of evil. And I call it the devil because then my religion sort of qualifies it as that. And they were the devil; they were the evil. They had blood on their shirts. I mean, they could negotiate with me with no passion whatsoever, simply saying, ‘Yeah, OK, we’ll stop massacring here, so that you can move, you know, people between the lines for about two hours, and then we’ll start up again.’
And so human beings don’t talk of that nature. It is another entity. Even their hands were cold, but it was like a death cold. Death cold is not a temperature. It’s a state. And so I was absolutely talking, negotiating and touching what I would qualify as the most evil, and it is the devil. And in the same vein, there’s at least one occasion, one in particular, where something happened in my office–I was stood there alone one night–that moved me from a scenario of, ‘We’ve had it,’ to a scenario that we were going to sustain ourselves one way or another, and we were going to stay and we were going to do everything we could.
GROSS: What happened?
Gen. DALLAIRE: In fact, I was standing at the window, and the lights were off. And there was a sort of a breeze or a sense that came through the window, and I just felt some presence. It’s sort of like a vibration or something. And my whole thought process shifted at that moment, and so the whole ideas of evacuation or whatever–that stuff went right out the window with the breeze, I suppose.
GROSS: Did you consider that to be something of a religious vision?
Gen. DALLAIRE: I sensed that there was this positive force that, in my religion, Judeo-Christian religion, says it’s God. Well, OK, it’ll be God. But these entities do exist.
GROSS: So you did feel that night that what you were experiencing was the presence of God?
Gen. DALLAIRE: There was no doubt, and there is no doubt today.