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Canadian Peacekeepers: Ten Stories of Valour in War-Torn Countries    by Norman S. Leach order for
Canadian Peacekeepers
by Norman S. Leach
Order:  USA  Can
Lone Pine, 2005 (2005)
* *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

One may deplore war. No one, however, can deny that the men and women who serve their countries and seek to protect their fellow citizens are deserving of our respect. Those who seek to protect fellow inhabitants of this planet, regardless of their nationality, stand even higher – or so it seems to me. As the author points out, peacekeeping is even more difficult than soldiering. The peacekeeper must preserve a very fragile peace, frequently facing hostility from the very people he is there to help, and try to avoid getting killed in the process. Leach begins with Lester B. Pearson, the Canadian Prime Minister who proposed the idea of a peacekeeping force, then goes on to profile the courageous and determined peacekeepers who made Mike Pearson's dream reality.

I am awed by the dedication and bravery of the people profiled by the author, and dismayed by the stupidity and blindness that so often hampered their efforts. (Most readers will not be surprised to learn that bureaucratic blunders are included in the latter.) One of the most compelling stories is that of Roméo Dallaire. By the end of the horrific genocide in Rwanda (1994), over 800,000 Rwandans had been murdered; and Dallaire, who had stubbornly fought to protect those few he could, who had refused to abandon the innocents under his care, had only 270 international peacekeepers in his command. The thousands he had been promised were whittled away by governments more interested in political posing than in saving lives. Afterwards, many honours were rightfully bestowed on Dallaire, but he remains haunted by the horrors he witnessed and was unable to prevent. (He has told his own story in Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda.)

Norman Leach does a very good job of explaining complex circumstances. It is hard not to be cynical about the world's lack of reaction to the horror in Rwanda – a tiny country, poor, African, distant, incomprehensible to the west. As for myself, I cannot even begin to envision 800,000 dead. That Dallaire did not descend into madness and despair is amazing to me. Cyprus, Afghanistan, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda – exotic these troubled places may be, but they are places where the humanity of peacekeepers far from their birthplaces meets the humanity of ordinary people who simply want a chance to live and raise their families. This slim little volume packs a big punch. It reminds us how small this planet is, and how similar the needs and dreams of the different peoples inhabiting it.

Do read this book. In a world beset by fears of terrorism, where we see daily examples of appalling violence and callousness, it is heartening to know that there are men and women who persist, quietly and without fanfare, in pursuing a dream of peace.

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