Reflection on Dawes (Chapters 1 & 2)

*make up blog post for discussion post 4*

Like the rest of the class, the first two chapters of Dawes book made me feel a combination of sadness, frustration, empathy, disappointment, and a little lost.  Right from the title of the first section, “That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Atrocity,” I knew that what I was about to read would not be easy and that there would be a strong chance that a part of me would feel responsible for ignoring, miss-interpreting, and allowing the Rwandan Genocide to go on for as long as and as horrific as it did.  I continually found myself baffled at how easy it was for the rest of the world to treat this genocide as nothing and therefore dehumanizing the victims and survivors of this tragedy.  The absence of action against the Rwandan Genocide reflected how Western/developed nations tend to pick and choose  which atrocities to report on, give aid to, and remember.

A quote from the first chapter, “Genocide,” that stuck out to me was, “the story about the failed story is itself a satisfying story that serves important cultural purposes” (Dawes 21).

This quote stuck out to me because I was not really sure what to make of the term “failed story.”  I thought that it could be a story in which the message or information was lost to the audience, or it could be a story that had great potential but fell short, or it could be a story that was not told properly.  This class has emphasized the power, complexity, and consequences of a story, but Dawes view on this idea of a “failed story” really made me reflect on what we have been talking about throughout this semester.  Moreover, Dawes’s argument that a “failed story” has important cultural purposes added to my confusion, but I think that Dawes is saying that every type of story has power.  Failed stories, just like successful stories, have lessons and messages that we might not notice at first, and that their cultural purposes are tied to the relationship between the past, present, and future.  We have all heard the saying “history repeats itself” and maybe these “failed stories” are the ones that continue to happen and that continue to be ignored.

The stories of victims, survivors, and villains have been either forgotten or told by someone else.  This reminded me of “the danger of single story.”  It got me thinking about how the danger of a single story isn’t just generalizations and stereotypes, but that the danger of a single story could be that the storyteller is not telling their own story.  The first chapter explained how victims and survivors’ stories have been exploited and told by someone else.  That part really troubled me because of how important representation is to humanitarian work, or any sort of field and source of information.  Representation is a tricky thing; it can easily be manipulated by whomever has the loudest voice, and media, especially Western media, tends to be the loudest in the room.  While the first chapter was hard to get through, it did reveal the importance of authenticity, representation, and communication when it comes to humanitarian work.

In terms of the possibility of me working in the humanitarian field, these two chapters have somewhat forced me to reevaluate my abilities to address and aid humanitarian crisis.  I still want to be a part of this field, but I think I need to reflect more on my abilities to handle tragedy, defeat, and loss.  Humanitarian work is something that I hold at a very high value and standard, but the second chapter’s discussion on the dos and don’ts of humanitarian efforts has had a bigger impact on my willingness to work in the field more than I expected.