Thursday, February 7, 2008

James Dawes' "That the World May Know"

James Dawes is Associate Professor of English and American Literature and Founder and Director of the Program in Human Rights and Humanitarianism at Macalaster College.

His latest book, That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Atrocity, "tells the powerful and moving story of the successes and failures of the modern human rights movement. Drawing on firsthand accounts from fieldworkers around the world, the book gives a painfully clear picture of the human cost of confronting inhumanity in our day."

Dawes applied the "Page 99 Test" to the book and reported the following:
On page 99 I am interviewing a delegate at the International Committee of the Red Cross about her experiences in war zones. She is describing how she and her colleagues tried to bring food and medicine to vulnerable civilians in Liberia.

“Often you had small boys of seven or eight years manning the checkpoints and wishing to be quite brave,” she began. Her voice was so gentle I at first interpreted it as timid.

Children are the most dangerous because they do not know that they can die, so they fear nothing. And they are trained to kill. They usually had adults behind them watching them, and they had to prove something to these adults. We had, as well, some older ones: eighteen, nineteen. They were often high on alcohol or drugs…

You had to remain very calm. The children could shoot you without understanding what they were doing. The older ones would sometimes want to keep you as hostage. So you try to calm down the situation and make them see that you appreciate them as human beings. With children, for example, it was quite easy because you just had to play with them. Children there were playing quite easily. So we just mentioned a nice T-shirt they had or nice shoes they had, or we’d say ‘How fast can you run?’ and things like this. After a while they would even smile at you. They would let you go through if you treated them gently, as children, but at the same time you respected them.

With adults, it was a bit more complicated. We always told them that we respect them. To protect you need to be able to come again. It’s no use coming in and out once, as if then it is finished. You have to build a relationship of trust. So if they tell you to open up the trucks, you do it. If they tell you they want to see things, you let them. It takes time, of course. Once, in the middle of nowhere, they had three checkpoints in ten meters: the so-called customs, the police, and the army. For a trip that would take two hours, it took about ten days. But we worked, and they let us pass.
Read more about That the World May Know at the Harvard University Press website, and learn more about James Dawes's teaching and research at his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue