Waiting for First Light:
My Ongoing Battle with PTSD
BY TIM DUNNE

Author: Roméo Dallaire (with Jessica Dee Humphreys)
Published by: Random House Canada (184 pages)
© 2016

Roméo Dallaire’s openness and candour about his experiences and reactions to the massacres in Rwanda make Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Battle with PTSD a difficult book to read. He compares his journey through the darkest recesses of hell to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and most certainly Dallaire still carries his albatross two decades after ethnic Hutu killed some 800,000 Rwandan Tutsi citizens in the most sadistic ways possible.

He is very careful to note that his post trauma stress disorder was not caused as much by the Hutu Interahamwe bloodfest as being deprived of the most basic of military hardware and personnel to prevent the Hutu’s genocide. In First Light, he speaks about the physical and psychological manifestations of his affliction, from an excruciating pain from his shoulder to his fingertips, his sleeplessness and his superhuman appetite for work that was an effort to displace his demons.

People with suicidal thoughts are sometimes reluctant or unable to discuss those fatalistic feelings, but they bubble to the surface as he weaves into his narrative how close he came to deliberately crashing his car into an overpass support, and contemplating leaping off the eighth floor balcony of his apartment near Ottawa. As difficult as it was to read his words about these episodes, harder still were his humbling admissions of uncontrolled anger, screaming and crippling emotional outbursts at his wife and children, and his acknowledgement that the shadow of Rwanda was also cast over the members of his family.

How the relationship between him and his wife Beth survived those first years following his return to Canada speaks to that lady’s resilience and commitment to her husband.

Dallaire was known for his admiration of and dedication to the rank and file of the Canadian Armed Forces and his sympathy for individuals who descended into the various maelstroms of conflict, underscoring the lack of foresight and preparation by their political masters and senior military leadership. His unintentionally damning comment, “Since 1991, we had stumbled unprepared into a series of missions in places in the world where we had never expected to deploy – Iraq, Kuwait, Cambodia, Yugoslavia, Somalia, Rwanda – each with racial, ethnic and religious complexities we had no concept of” gives us a small insight into demonic hauntings that created the contemporary epidemic of suicides by veterans of these missions.

Like militaries throughout the world, Canadian Forces leaders infuse into members a sense of family, loyalty and trust, an unshakable faith that your buddy has your back as you have his/hers, and severing that bond can be another traumatic event. Modern day Canadian veterans can easily understand the shock and the heartbreak that Dallaire must have felt when Chief of the Defence Staff Maurice Baril told him, “I don’t want you to leave immediately; we want someone good to replace you because this is good work. Roméo, take three months to prepare for your departure.”

On the upside, he described his successes as a Canadian senator and the creator of the Dallaire Child Soldier Initiative, with its centre of operations in Halifax’s Dalhousie University. But his most important role is as a writer whose books Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda and Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Battle with PTSD tell Canadians the other costs of conflict, but this one paid by the troops we send.

As one former soldier who served under his command commented: "Former soldiers, be forewarned, and for everyone else, believe what you read."

– Tim Dunne is FrontLine's Atlantic Correspondent. To read more articles, click here.

 

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Comments

Thank you for this article Tim. This is one book that I, unfortunately, will not be able to read. I tried watching the film and read his book Shake Hands with the Devil and was not able to. I just cannot fathom what a day in the life of Roméo Dallaire looks like. I have been fortunate to meet him several times during my career and he has impressed me each and every time.

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