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The Lion, the Fox & the Eagle: A Story of Generals and Justice in Rwanda and Yugoslavia

by Carol Off

The peacekeeper has become a Canadian icon, a source of national pride common enough to turn up in jingoistic beer commercials. But those who read Carol Off’s new book may wonder just what there is to be proud about. In The Lion, the Fox & the Eagle, the Toronto journalist shows how Canadian-led UN peacekeeping missions failed two countries in crisis.

The “lion” and “fox” of the title are two Canadian generals, Roméo Dallaire and Lewis MacKenzie, respectively. Dallaire led UN forces in Rwanda in 1994; with few troops and no mandate to intervene, he was powerless as the country’s Hutu majority slaughtered the Tutsi minority. MacKenzie helmed a Sarajevo-based peacekeeping team in 1992, as Serb forces laid seige to the city in the wake of Bosnia’s newly declared independence. MacKenzie and his Canadian soldiers left Sarajevo within months – replaced by troops from other nations – but the Bosnian war raged for another three years.

The book’s greatest strength lies in its informative outlines of those conflicts, with gripping and readable summary enhanced by evocative scene-setting. Still, Off is likely to raise readerly eyebrows with wildly variant treatment of her principal subjects – she has nothing but praise for one and nothing but scorn for the other. Off casts Dallaire as a frustrated hero and blames shadowy UN bureaucracy for inaction in Rwanda. But MacKenzie, she argues, lacked the will to even acknowledge the Serbian ethnic cleansing campaigns in Bosnia, much less attempt to prevent them. “Fox,” in fact, seems rather a misnomer for MacKenzie, since Off relentlessly portrays the general as a stooge of Serbian aggression.

The book’s “eagle” is Louise Arbour, a Canadian judge who served as chief prosecutor for UN tribunals that investigated war crimes in Bosnia and Rwanda. Though Arbour’s an intriguing person, the tribunal section, where the previously taut narrative slackens, is the book’s weakest. And while MacKenzie and Dallaire are natural focal points earlier in the book, the concentration on Arbour seems contrived – Off dubiously characterizes each tribunal success as a personal triumph for the prosecutor.

In the end, The Lion, the Fox & the Eagle succeeds in profiling key moments in recent world history and the roles that Canadians played in them. But the implications of those moments, and those roles, bear more exploring. Off argues thought-provokingly – but too briefly – for a reconsideration of the very conception of peacekeeping. She suggests that the UN’s insistence on neutrality, and the reluctance of member countries to sustain casualties of their own, render peacekeeping forces powerless at times when they’re needed the most.