I think the thing that struck me the hardest about Matteo Casali’s graphic novel 99 Days was the mention of how most people in this country heard more and remember more about Kurt Cobain’s suicide than the atrocities that occurred around the same time in Rwanda.
For the record, Kurt Cobain killed himself on April 5, 1994. Beginning two days later, from April 7 to July 15, 1994, the Hutu-led government of Rwanda targeted the Tutsis for extermination, killing between 500,000 to 1 million Tutsi—almost 70 percent of the Tutsi population. And yet, in this country, the suicide of one rock star right before that stretch of time is what many people here remember as one of the “biggest news stories” from 1994.
I’m by no means belittling the seriousness of suicide. I am, however, pointing out a disappointingly xenophobic history of reporting global events in this country. Things have improved now that we can access other news outlets from other countries through the Internet—but this still doesn’t change the fact that our news outlets too often take an isolationist approach to what we deem worthy to report to constituents. It shouldn’t be this way. We should know what is transpiring around the world and how it relates to our global history.
Say it again. Say it until you can’t speak any more. Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it. This is a history that will never remain in the past so long as we ignore it. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, with the attacks last week in Paris. The attack the day before that in Lebanon. The attack going on in Mali right now as I type this. Right. Now. The total destruction of the Russian Airbus A321 leaving Egypt. The unrelenting terrorist violence throughout Africa. In fact, more attacks this year alone than I want to list here, but that should be known.
Why? It’s not new. Genocide, new? Bosnia. Bangladesh. Arbeit macht frei. Religious war, new? Onward, Christian soldiers. Allahu Akbar. And, yes, it’s easy to blame religion. I confess that my first response to these instances is to think that if we could just disband all religion, then we might have a chance. But that’s a lie. It’s not religion. It’s not politics. It’s not culture or morality or skin color or ethnicity.
We are the fuel to this fire. We are genetically hard-wired to behave this way. I’m going to bogart something I wrote elsewhere recently:
We are hard-wired to fear. Fear kept us alive as a species throughout millennia of evolution. Fear drove us to kill or be killed. That hard wiring is still there, only now we have no real reason to kill. So we just make shit up. We need to figure out how to rewire our genetic responses.
At one point, that fear saved us. Now, it’s destroying us. It’s no longer necessary to our survival as a species, so we simply make up reasons to continue to justify it. At the moment, religion is the excuse and absolution for our inborn fear of “the other.” If there were no religion, then we would simply make up another reason. But how do we reprogram something so deeply rooted within us? How do we rewire what became an evolutionary necessity? Kill what we fear. Kill what is not us.
I’m not going to say love is the answer. That’s trite and schmaltzy. It’s also not true. I don’t have to love you to know that I shouldn’t kill you. And I know I shouldn’t kill you for one simple reason. It’s at the heart of what France once said to us as a country, and what we have in turn said to them in recent days.
Aujourd’hui, nous sommes
Américains Parisiens humains.
Now if we can just figure out how to embrace that truth, we might actually get somewhere.
Final Verdict: You probably forgot that this was a book review, didn’t you? I apparently did. It’s just, the book itself wasn’t all that great, but the thematic elements were incredibly provocative, especially right now. The artwork was solid but the story itself was a bit spotty, although I did like the focus on the traumatic effects that the events in Rwanda continued to have upon the main character. War does not end when the white flag goes up or the enemies are all vanquished. War comes home inside every soldier who fought. We’d do our soldiers far more honor remembering that truth than in having a holiday to “remember” them with discount sales on TVs and refrigerators. But I digress. Anyway, the overarching power of the novel’s topic for me is clear. Still, I don’t foresee adding this to my collection.