As soon as I saw the title of Philip Gourevitch’s book about the genocide in Rwanda, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, I knew I wanted to write a song on this subject, a conviction that became much stronger when I read the book. The title comes from the words of a letter written by a group of Tutsi ministers to the head of their mission, a Hutu, to ask him to intervene to save their lives. His response was “Your problem has found a solution: you must die.” I think one reason Gourevitch took that line for his title was that the killings were so widespread and systematic that many of the victims actually knew when they were likely to be killed, and still were unable to prevent it. One interesting aspect of the book was that the Rwandan holocaust had its own “Schindler” figure, a Hutu named Paul Rusesabagina, who hid Tutsis in his hotel, bribed the government officials responsible for the genocide, played them off against each other, and otherwise did whatever it took to save as many lives as he could — over a thousand people who otherwise almost certainly would have been killed. Most of the other people and organizations who could have done something to stop or slow the genocide — in particular, the U.S. government and the United Nations peacekeeping and relief organizations — did not distinguish themselves nearly as well, in many cases actually making the problem worse. By the end of the book, however, Gourevitch finds some reasons to hope that the future might be better for Rwanda, in spite of its past. I hope he is right. In any event, I strongly recommend reading the book.
Later additions: I was fortunate enough to meet (very briefly) the person described in the second verse, Paul Rusesabagina, at a signing event for his book, An Ordinary Man, at San Jose State University, shortly after it came out. In the book-signing line, I didn’t have a chance to say much, so I simply presented him with a copy of the song and told him that in my opinion, he was no ordinary man. Also, if you have followed the news in Rwanda, the after-effects of the genocide (including efforts by those, like Holocaust deniers, who deny that it ever took place) are still ongoing, including allegations that the new Rwandan government, under Paul Kagame, who has assumed powers that could be called dictatorial, are now taking their turn as murderous aggressors in the eastern Congo. So while there may still be hope, as the song says, for a better end to this story, it certainly hasn’t happened yet.
Just one page, a few lines — the letter came from a time and a place far from the world’s eye;
And the man with it now had then told the writers how the solution was simple: “You must die.”
So the bullets flashed, the machetes slashed, until almost a million were slain;
But though no one was saved, their voice from the grave still calls out to us once again:
We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed, with our families.
The promise of all of these young lives will go unfulfilled.
Now the world turns its face from the deaths in this place, and the media voices are stilled,
So you’ll all go on with your own lives – but we will be killed.
He ran the hotel, where he learned to buy and sell the souls of those who would otherwise be dead.
But when told he was brave, for the lives that he’d saved, “I just refused so many things,” was all he said.
You might wonder why he was the only one to see that lives in danger still could be saved;
Why the bishops and priests, and the U.N. relief, let so many go straight to their graves.
Now this story is bleak, but when you hear people speak of some who refused to sell out their friends,
You think there might still be hope, amid the bodies and the smoke, this story might have a better end than …
So you’ll all go on with your own lives… but we will be killed.
Contact me about this song: