Lieutenant-General and Senator Roméo Dallaire has seen a lot. In fact, he has seen more than most people can possibly imagine.
This was made clear during a lecture delivered by Dallaire at Concordia University last Thursday. The talk and accompanying book signing were part of a tour promoting Dallaire’s new book, They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children.
Before Dallaire’s talk, Frank Chalk, a history professor at Concordia and the director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, introduced the senator to a crowd of mostly students.
“In General Dallaire’s case, compassion means more than empathy and sympathy, for he combines those virtues with action and with wisdom, and that is why he is with us tonight,” Chalk said.
Dallaire delivered a powerful lecture on the importance of the next generation’s ability to understand the past in order to make the right decisions for the future.
“We’re going to get a feel for the past,” said Dallaire as he addressed the audience at the beginning of the lecture. “And that’s going to be farther than CNN past, which is last week, and even farther than FOX past, which is yesterday.”
One of Dallaire’s main concerns about the future stemmed from his apprehension regarding how we, and in turn our politicians, spend too much energy “managing” the risks of the future so as to minimize any possible problems. Instead, Dallaire said, we should be anticipating and taking risks in order to build the best future.
“How can you look into that future and leap into it if you’re not going to take any risks?” asked Dallaire.
Dallaire argued that good leadership will often produce better results than what managerial statistics and theories say are possible.
“There is no limit to what human beings can do,” he said. “So, ladies and gentlemen, the future is in leading, not in managing and handling and avoiding the risks and perceptions of the future.”
Another theme discussed during the lecture was Canada’s position in the global framework. Although thousands of Canadian troops helped storm the beaches of Normandy, no Canadian general was consulted on the strategy of the mission. Canada, Dallaire said, used to be viewed simply as “the good cousins from across the pond.”
Today, he argued, Canada is one of the most powerful nation-states in the world. Dallaire believes Canada, and Canadians, should realize this and act accordingly.
“When I hear someone saying Canada is punching above their weight, I think that person is on another planet than us, because we have never yet punched above our weight,” he said. “For [Canada’s] potential has not yet been fully maximized. We have a lot more to give. You have a lot to give in this time frame, on this planet, to humanity.”
But Dallaire said that Canada must be responsible with this power. He talked about Canada’s membership in NATO and the dangerous power of nuclear weapons. Dallaire said that hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on upgrading nuclear weapons systems that are now useless because serious threats from superpowers no longer exist.
“Having nuclear weapons in existence is an affront to our human right to security,” he said.
Although the talk was billed as part of a tour promoting Dallaire’s new book on child soldiers, much of the talk covered a wide variety of unrelated topics. But he still made time to mention child soldiers and their lamentable prevalence in violence around the world, specifically in Africa.
According to Dallaire, there are currently close to 30 conflicts throughout the world where child soldiers are the primary weapons system. Dallaire recounted graphic details of child soldiers being drugged and used as killing machines and explained that there are serious moral issues for any third party who becomes involved in these conflicts.
“Do you kill children, who are under duress, who have been abducted, who have been drugged up, who have been indoctrinated, working out of fear, raped, who are engaged in using force and barbarism?” asked Dallaire. “Is the answer to shoot them?”
Dallaire’s answer was an adamant “no.” He maintained we must work to end the use of people as weapons and to secure all people’s rights.
“All humans are human,” Roméo Dallaire stressed. “All humans are human.”
The event was put on as a joint effort by several organizations, including the Concordia Student Union and the McGill Bookstore. Anna Stein, the events administrator at the McGill Bookstore, said that bringing Dallaire to talk to students was an easy decision.
“Why General Dallaire? Because he is this exceptional figure. Exceptional beyond what people can articulate,” Stein said. “What he’s been through is astronomical and impossible to describe, and yet he keeps so busy, he has a hand in so many things.”