3) Discuss the idea of forgiveness and guilt in Machete Season. In your paper, analyze how the men discuss the idea of guilt how they understand the concept of forgiveness. Consider: How do different men in the group understand guilt and forgiveness? Do the men feel guilt? Are you surprised by their sense/lack of guilt? Why are you surprised? How does Hatzfeld treat this topic? Philosopher Paul Ricoeur posed the question, how “can one forgive someone who does not admit his guilt? (Hatzfeld 195) Whether this admission of guilt is enough to be forgiven or not, the “sincere” taking of responsibility for one’s actions is an absolute minimum in striving for forgiveness.
Ricoeur’s question becomes especially relevant when discussing the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, in which the Hutu perpetrators, who killed hundreds of thousands of Tutsi, are now seeking forgiveness for their actions. In Machete Season by Jean Hatzfeld, a close-knit gang of such Hutu genocide perpetrators was interviewed concerning their role in the genocide as well as their views concerning regret and forgiveness.
While a majority of those interviewed admit their guilt in killing the Tutsis, their lack of remorse makes their apologies and actions largely unforgivable. This insincerity can be seen through their selfish concerns and motives, emphasis on receiving forgiveness from God rather than those victimized, and vision of a return to a completely unaffected future. Prior to assessing the sincerity of their regret and apologies, we must see to what extent they believe themselves to being responsible.
These men cite several key recurring justifications for their actions. The first is the intoxicating anti-Tutsi environment created by the Rwandan President’s death being blamed on the Tutsis. These men claim that the consequent emotion led to many of them being “carried away in a tumult, an uproar, a commotion”(215) and resorting to violence. This turbulent environment also made accepting orders more intuitive, and Joseph-Desire goes as far as disclaiming “responsibility for his actions” as he was “simply following orders”(171).
And while these factors were claimed to have helped them initiate these murders, the progression of the killings was accredited to the “approval” and “satisfaction” of surrounding people, until they just “got used to killing”(23). It is clear that these mass murders in many ways believe that they were not responsible for the thousands of deaths, an ignorant attitude made clear through Joseph’s “stupid, odious, and untenable”(171) demeanor when in trial.
Yet, despite minimizing their participation and blaming others, an overpowering “egocentrism”(240) arises in these interviews and these killers describe themselves as much more than “simply peripheral figures” in the genocide. A great contradiction between their described roles and their denial of responsibility is thus created, one that highlights the naivety of these men. With these poor attitudes combined, the base for a sincere feeling of regret and remorse is already diminished. Despite this naive belief in innocence, the perpetrators still are willing to offer apologies to the victims.
Alphonse highlights the necessity of a “proper truth from the offender, a sincere request”(204) in a proper apology. The irony is, this is exactly where Alphonse and his fellow killers’ apologies fail. The sincerity of their apologies are thwarted with the same naive and untenable thought processes exemplified by Joseph. The first of such weaknesses arises in the clearly self-centered and selfish motives for asking for forgiveness. Rather than viewing the apology as a mean to help support those affected, many of the prisoners view it as a way to alleviate their own situations.
As Hatzfeld describes, these apologies are in many ways a “selfish act” because it facilitates the “diminishing of his offence and, thus, his punishment, even his guilt”(199). This is made clear in many of the interviews when discussing forgiveness, as the conversation often shifts to the discussion of the prisoners own problems such as Fulgence’s “shivery”(157) when thinking of his “prison future”, Elie’s dreams void of “the killed people”(162) but rather consisting of a return to his “house”, and Pio’s desire to “assuage my memory”(160).
Asking for forgiveness becomes a means to getting out of prison sooner, returning to family and friends sooner, and finally, to ease their own nightmares rather than concern for the victim’s own families, futures, and mental states. Comments like “He asked for forgiveness of everyone at his trial, and he still got a heavy sentence”(203) reflect the naive and selfish attitude these killers have, not understanding the “extraordinary effort”(199) needed to forgive such horrific crimes.
This selfishness is also reflected in to whom they are addressing, the next weakness in the sincerity of their apologies. Rather than asking the victims for forgiveness, the most effected by their actions, many of these prisoners seem to be more worried about receiving forgiveness from God, and protecting their own futures. Fulgence epitomizes this attitude when he claims that the perpetrators must “give a little something to those who have suffered. And leave God the too-heavy task of our final punishment”(193).
While the victims are the most effected by the events, Fulgence believes they only need a “little” compensation, and rather, focuses forgiveness on what will become of him. Pio also reflects this selfish attitude admitting his fear of “punishment-here below or up above”(160) and later goes on to say that he only sees “God to forgive me”(207). Forgiveness involves two people, the culprit and the victim, however, the prisoners seem to only factor in themselves, made clear in the proliferation of first person pronouns such as “our” and “me” as demonstrated above.
The ineffectiveness of this one-person methodology is made clear when viewing forgiveness from the eyes of a survivor, Gaspard, who claims, “Real regrets are said eye to eye, not to statues of God”(163). The perpetrators clearly do not acknowledge the role of forgiveness in the lives of the victims, whether to help cope or as simple as a gesture, a view that again tarnishes any sincerity in there apologies.
With the ultimate power in the hands of God, these mass killers seem to view the return to a completely ordinary life until judgment as tangible, and focus much of their narratives on their own futures. They feel their actions can simply be forgiven and forgotten by “succeeding next time”(163) and thus overlook any need to sincerely redeem themselves in the present. The transient nature of their guilt can be seen when Fulgence boldly admits, “I thought wrong, I went wrong, I did wrong”(157), and yet, soon after asserts, “those dead people and those acts of killing do not invade my dreams”.
He clearly lacks remorse, as the horrors caused by his atrocious actions apparently no longer cross his mind. This unregretful attitude is again affirmed through his belief that these same horrific actions are so easily forgotten when he claims, “Time has punished me for my misdeeds and can allow me to begin an ordinary life”(192). Again, “my”, “I”, and “me” are consistently seen, showing the egotistical nature of the perpetrators, even when discussing the future.
Over and over again, the victims’ futures are disregarded and rather, the perpetrators look forward to “get soccer going again”(160), to “work without hearing another word, except talk about crops”(193), and to reunite with one’s “wife and house”(162). Through these aspirations, it becomes clear how little responsibility they feel for their actions. In the end, many of these views and attitudes tarnish the sincerity of the perpetrators desire to forgive, making it that much harder for survivors to try and reconcile with the events of the genocide.
While these trends are apparent in many, if not most, of the prisoners interviewed, it’d be unfair to assign this lack of insincerity to every Hutu involved. On occasion, members of the gang do show glimpses of genuine concern, even to the extent of writing letters to victims from prison. However, if these accounts do show anything definite, it is the clear difficulty in apologizing and forgiving after genocide, the first step in any hope for true reconciliation.