Published by the Alternate Dream
Fight like Soldiers, Die Like Children
By Patrick Reed
Canada | 83 min
A film, like any other piece of art, can be perhaps judged on two different axises: One that seeks to locate its place in the hierarchy of artistic excellence; Another that discerns its philosophical-political direction. Not that there is no connection between the two but, in an oversimplified statements, we can say that A great film, judged on the first axis, can be put in the service of any cause, good or evil, reactionary or progressive.
Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children fails on both axises. It barely deserves the title ‘documentary.’ It is quite outrageous that the director claimed it to be a film about child soldiers in Africa as it is only a hagiographic infomercial for a politician, liberal media darling and Liberal Party’s Senator General Romeo Dallaire.
Dallaire came to fame by his memoirs, where he admitted to the impotence of United Nations military operations during the Rwandan genocide of 1993-94 of which he was the commander. That genocide took the lives of more than a million people (who were killed by Western-made weapons and in circumstances much influenced by western Imperialism) yet, in a sick irony, its most famous ‘victim’ in Canada became General Dallaire who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and took to alcoholism. He went on to become a celebrity author and a supporter of Western military intervention in the third world conflicts (i.e. imperialism). Having been appointed to the Senate by the Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, he went on to become an ardent supporter of Michael Ignatieff’s bid for the Liberal leadership. (Ignatieff being an intellectual theoretician of this pro-intervention stance, Dallaire basically applied to be his foot soldier executioner.)
Now, the retired General has took on a new cause: ending the practice of using child soldiers in Africa which he hopes to achieve by military force and by negotiating with the rebel commanders, willing to, as the title of his first famed book (also made into a film by the same director and producer) suggested, shake hands with the ‘devil.’ The film is a story of this new campaign, again bearing title of another best-selling book that Dallaire has published. It follows Dallaire as he ventures into four African countries (Rwanda, Congo, Uganda and South Sudan) and talks to some rebel commanders and complains about the inefficiency of UN operations and redtape. These episodes are interjected with interviewing some of his associates and animated pieces that narrate sections from his book.
Now, as I suggested earlier, there is nothing that says one can’t make a good film on this topic, whether one wishes to defend the general, be against him, or in somewhat of a middle ground. You can make a good film, artistically speaking, in defense of the liberal Imperialism that the likes of Dallaire represent. But this is simply not it. As I said earlier, it is barely a film but more of a political commercial for Dallaire, the types that open Party conventions or electoral campaigns (Although, in all fairness, they are better works sometimes.)
In a film that is supposed to be about child soldiers in Africa, not a single voice from the region is represented. Interviews with child soldiers themselves are very cursory and leaing. (In one, Dallaire awkwardly asks a young girl who has been a ‘bush wife’ to Joseph Kony, the notorious leader of Lord’s Resistance Army, the horrific gang that has wrecked havoc in Northern Uganda and the region for a few decades, if Kony wasn’t in fact ‘the devil’ himself. She said no but he did act devilish which is much more of a sane answer that Dallaire’s strange Christian theologic way of dealing with the issue.) Not a single historian, not a single political activist, African or otherwise, is interviewed. There is not even a hint of the film being interested in the social conditions that has led to the wars and the use of child soldiers. Instead, we have Dallaire’s strange sense of himself as a savior Messiah projected time and time again.
Not a single line appears about the connections of the West with Africa and its economic interest, not even in the usual flimsy liberal manner. You’d think any good liberal would at least say a sentence or two on Western-led mining operations in the region that is at the centre of so many conflicts. Nope. Dallaire is not interested in that and nor is the director.
As a result, all we could get from the film is the all-too-familiar sickening colonial picture: The white angel is descending upon the brutal savage blacks to stop them from devouring one another. As I was thinking of these, I thought about the infamous Kony2012 campaign that generated so much debate that you’d think any half-thinking advocate of NGOs would have given some thought to the problems with that kind of narrative. As it turned out, the film actually replays the Kony2012 ad in a celebratory fashion!
What even added more to my horror was the director’s response to my questions and those of the audience after the screening. When I asked him about having made an infomercial instead of a documentary, he was somewhat apologetic. In response to other questions (including those about the mining, about representing voices from inside Africa) he basically pointed out that he needs funding and this is what he could get funding for! He went on to say that when he had films that mostly focused on voices from the region he could never get sufficient funding. So, this after all is how low the doc industry in Canada has fallen to. At least, give one to him for his honesty. It turns out that this, after all, was a paid-for infomercial.