In a Moment of Difficulty for a Friend, Thinking of Lt. General Roméo Dallaire

December 15 Update: Just after publishing the post below, the fine radio program CBC Sunday Edition carried a lengthy interview with Roméo Dallaire which I linked to on the sister blog to this one, Honourary Canadian. It was a very moving conversation.
Shake Hands with the DevilIn 2005 when I was an editorial executive with Carroll & Graf Publishers of the Avalon Publishing Group I brought out the U.S. edition of a Canadian bestseller, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. Its author was Lt. General Roméo Dallaire, a career officer in the Canadian forces, a national military that more than most in the modern world has cultivated a strong tradition of serving as peacekeepers helping to end conflicts in lands distant from their own. In 1993 Dallaire was commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda when that country was swept in to genocide and ethnic cleansing by Hutu militants. The member nations of the world body refused to resource Dallaire’s mission adequately, even after he presented them with a military plan weeks before the genocide that would likely have blocked the carnage before it ever began. Horror ensued. Dallaire and fewer than 500 soldiers (he’d asked for 4,500 more troops) sheltered and saved approximately 25,000 people, yet 800,000 Rwandans died. Dallaire returned home to Canada from the Rwandan mission a nearly broken man, suicidal and afflicted with severe PTSD.

In Canada, where the tragic failure of the mission under Dallaire’s command was well known, the book from Random House Canada struck a huge chord and it had already sold over 100,000 copies when I acquired the rights. Many US publishers, including Random House in New York, had declined to publish the book here. I knew why they had–in the States, Dallaire was hardly known at all. As an acquiring editor at publishing houses for more than twenty-five years, I had never minded a situation like that. I welcomed the challenge, and loved working to promote an author, who on the merits of his/her book and their compelling personal story, deserved to be widely read and better known, thus allowing the book, with a solid foundation, to be built up in to a big success. Going in, I knew I needed to help the book find as large an audience as possible in the US, or better yet, bring as big an audience as possible to the book. I commissioned an original Introduction by Samantha Power, who’d recently published the Pulitzer Prize winner, A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide. We also caught a break when publication coincided with release of the movie, “Hotel Rwanda,” in which Nick Nolte played a Hollywood version of the general. The movie portrayal, though very inaccurate, did elevate Dallaire’s notoriety, and enabled us to generate major reviews and book him on shows like Charlie Rose, and many NPR programs.

Samantha Power of course is now serving as US Ambassador to the UN. Ironically, when Shake Hands  was published, the Washington Post asked former US Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright to review it. I considered this a very interesting, even a daring assignment by the Post book editors. After all, the Clinton administration’s failure in Rwanda along with other countries was still fresh in mind, raw and painful. To her credit, in her review Albright gave Dallaire and his book their due. While conceding she’d been a part of many failures in Rwanda, she also pointed to flaws in the world system that leads to failures like Rwanda. Almost a decade later, failures like this still occur–look at the current civil wars in Syria and the Central African Republic. These recurrences are the sort of thing that torture Roméo; they can tip him in to a new flare-up of post-traumatic stress.

Despite the severe illness, Dallaire has rebuilt his life and psyche and gone on to do very important work in conflict resolution. I accompanied him to several of his NYC interviews, sitting in the back of taxicabs and in green rooms with him. We became friends, and I found him a dear person. Despite everything Roméo had endured–and the treatment and therapy he’s still engaged with regularly–he has a good sense of humor with an almost merry glint in his eyes. I mentioned this to him and he said, “I’ve always tried to be like that. A commander without a sense of humor will not be respected by his troops.” He’s a soldier-humanitarian, kind and sensitive, Gandhi-like in his way. From the position he holds now as a Canadian Senator–where a major scandal has been coincidentally been raging the past few months–he has moved on in his life to advocate for the end of the practice of armies conscripting child soldiers. The Carroll & Graf edition of Shake Hands  sold well over 60,000 copies the first year after I published it, and it’s still selling well today.

With the 20th anniversary of the genocide approaching next year, and four recent suicides of Canadian veterans of the Afghan War, Dallaire had a traffic accident this week due to severe insomnia and sleeplessness he’s been enduring as these events prey on him. He was uninjured but shaken by the crash. The same day he made a statement of apology to his colleagues in the Canadian Senate, ironic since so few others there have been anywhere near as forthright in admitting their own missteps. I shared my concern for Roméo in a few tweets earlier this week.


On the Imperative of Publishing Whistleblowers

Neal Maillet, editorial director of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, has published a good opinion piece in Publishing Perspectives on what he sees as the imperative of publishing books by whistleblowers, and the dynamics that prevail when working with these authors and their books. In 2004 Berrett-Koehler published the breakthrough book on vulture capitalism, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, a mega-hit by John Perkins that was licensed to Plume for trade paperback for whom it was also a bestseller. More recently, he writes that B-K has published Confessions of a Microfinance Heretic, on the little-known darker side of what we like to think of as progressive measures to facilitate economic progress in the developing world.

For my part, when I describe the imperatives and mandates that impel my personal publishing choices I have long placed “whistleblowers, truthtellers, muckrakers, and revisionist historians” highest on my list, and refer to this on the two business-oriented pages at the top of this website, Philip Turner Book Productions and Philip Turner. Quoting from the latter page, I’ve written “As an editor and publisher I have always felt impelled to publish books by and about singular witnesses–whistleblowers, truthellers, muckrakers, revisionist historians–people who’ve passed through some crucible of experience that’s left them with elevated author-ity, and the only person who could write the book in question, or about whom it could be written. Whether told in the first person by an author who has passed through some crucible of experience that leaves him or her uniquely qualified to tell the tale or in the third person by a reporter or scholar who has pursued a story or historical episode with single-minded passion, I am devoted to publishing imperative nonfiction, books that really matter in people’s lives.”

My definition of an imperative book is not limited to books by corporate and government whistleblowers, though it certainly includes them. The list of relevant books I’ve acquired and/or published over the past decade and a half includes these ten titles:

1) DEAD RUN: The Shocking Story of Dennis Stockton and Life on Death Row in America (1999), a nonfiction narrative by reporters Joe Jackson and Bill Burke with an Introduction by William Styron, chronicling an innocent man on Death Row in Virginia and the only mass escape from Death Row in U.S. history. The condemned convict, Dennis Stockton, wasn’t among the escapees, but he kept a whistleblowing diary detailing corruption in the penitentiary that he later with the reporters;
2) IBM & THE HOLOCAUST: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation (2001), an investigative tour de force by Edwin Black showing how one of the world’s most successful technology companies lent its technology to the Third Reich’s killing machinery;
3) THE WOMAN WHO WOULDN’T TALK: Why I Refused to Testify Against the Clintons and What I Learned in Jail (2002) by Susan MacDougal, a New York Times bestseller. Susan served 18 months in jail for civil contempt when she wouldn’t give Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr the testimony he wanted from her.

4) THE POLITICS OF TRUTH: Inside the Lies that Put the White House on Trial and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity (2004) by Ambassador Joseph Wilson, which later became the basis in part for the film, “Fair Game,” a New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller;
5) AHMAD’S WAR, AHMAD’S PEACE: Surviving Under Saddam, Dying in the New Iraq (2005) by Michael Goldfarb. A longtime NPR correspondent, this is Goldfarb’s tribute to Kurd Ahmad Shawkat, his translator during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, who started a newspaper in the months after Saddam’s fall, only to be assassinated for his editorials critical of intolerance. A New York Times Notable Book.

To the books by these authors, I would also add my writers, the late Edward Robb Ellis, the most prolific diarist in the history of American letters, and 100-year oldRuth Gruber, award-winning photojournalist–each of them singular eyewitnesses to history. Over the years I have published four and six books by them, respectively.

Among my professional roles nowadays is that of independent editor and consultant to authors on book development in which I continue seeking out unique individuals with stories like these to tell. That’s also why I enjoy working with Speakerfile, the company that connects conference organizers with authors who do public speaking. Thanks to Neal Maillett and Berrett-Koehler Publishers for reminding me and all readers of the vital role publishers play in helping us hear the voices of whistleblowers and truthtellers. H/t to Mike Shatzkin for alerting me to Mr. Maillett’s article. Also, thanks to the Open Democracy Action Center (ODAC) for use of their whistleblower graphic.

Please click through to the complete post to read about the last five books from the above list and see many of the book jackets.