Unit 3, Assignment 3- Erin Simard

When read together, “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families” by Philip Gourevitch and “Regarding the Pain of Others” by Susan Sontag provide a devastating tandem of questions and answers. While Gourevitch’s account of the Rwandan genocide constantly begs the question “why,” Sontag’s discussion of empathy consistently reaffirms the horrific answers that I suspect most of us have always known. For example, one of the questions, if not the main question, posed by Gourevitch seems to be “why did the world so attentively watch the Rwandan genocide, yet choose at every opportunity not to intervene?” I, as I am sure many of us did, wondered while reading Gourevitch if the reason why the world “stood around with its hand in its pockets” (163) had something to do with the fact that the genocide took place in a Central African country. If an atrocity such as this occurred in, say, Spain, would the world have chosen another course of action? Was the Western world’s passivity possibly due to the fact that in the imagination of Western society, Africa exists as a place of savagery and a place where murder is simply natural? Sontag clearly states that this is, in fact, the exact cause of the passivity of the Western world. Sontag argues that it is impossible for humans to feel a sense of common humanity or to want to protect a group of people that are not even viewed as people, but rather a group of people among which these sorts of “cruelties” are simply an “inevitability.” (71) Thus, Sontag helps us to grapple with the intense questions posed by Gourevitch by providing clear (though often disconcerting) answers.

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