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History Book: Struggle for control

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WORLD Radio - History Book: Struggle for control

The beginning of NATO, Iran’s Sharia law, and the Rwandan genocide


Prime and Foreign Minister Paul-Henri Spaak of Belgium places the first signature on the North Atlantic Treaty, April 4, 1949. Associated Press photo

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday April 1st. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming up next, the WORLD History Book. Today, the spark that begins the genocide in Rwanda. And, a religious fanatic transforms Iran … But first, 75 years ago this week, a post-World War II military alliance. Here’s WORLD Executive Producer Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER: We begin today in Washington D.C. on April 4th, 1949. American President Harry Truman addresses heads of state from Canada and 10 European nations.

TRUMAN: We've seen brave men overcome obstacles that seem insurmountable and forces that seem overwhelming men with courage and vision can still determine their own destiny…

After the fall of Nazi Germany at the end of World War Two, Europe and the United States soon faced a new threat, the Soviet Union. The Russians had no intention of giving up control of territory they’d occupied in Eastern Europe, and instead were working to expand soviet influence. Western nations decided they needed a collective defense agreement.

TRUMAN: If there is anything certain today, if there is anything inevitable in the future, it is the will of the people of the world for freedom and for peace.

The “Washington Treaty,” contained 14 articles, laying out commitments to, among other things, seek peaceful resolution to disputes, “encourage economic collaboration,” and invest in shared military defense. Most significant was Article 5 guaranteeing that if one member of the alliance was attacked, the others would treat it as an attack upon all, and would come to their aid.

SPEAKER: We will now proceed to the signing of the North Atlantic treaty.

The alliance, later called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—or NATO— brought the military might of the United States to bear in Europe to protect small nations like Denmark and Luxembourg from the Soviet Union. And for the remainder of the Cold War, the alliance avoided armed conflict with Russia.

When Article 5 was invoked for the first and so far only time, it wasn’t a nation in Europe that was under attack.

GEORGE BUSH: Today our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack...

After Middle Eastern terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson addressed reporters on September 12th, 2001:

ROBERTSON: …if it is determined that this attack was directed from abroad against the United States, it shall be regarded as an action covered by Article 5 of the Washington Treaty…

NATO countries helped the U.S. carry out airstrikes in Afghanistan during the War on Terror. Since then, the original organization of 12 has now more than doubled…last month, Sweden joined as the 32nd member.

Next…fifty years ago today, Muslim cleric and politician Ayatollah Khomeini calls for an Islamic Republic in Iran. He makes the comments while in exile in Iraq. He’s there due to his strong opposition to the Iranian monarchy. Khomeini is appalled by the Shah’s lavish lifestyle…and when the Shah begins to promote further freedoms for women and non-muslims in government—Khomeini denounces the ruler…

From Iraq the spiritual leader grows in notoriety by sending regular messages into Iran by mass duplicated cassette tapes. He rails against the Shah, against Israel, and against the United States. His religious revolutionary ideals take root.

AUDIO: [KHOMEINI SPEAKS WITH ROBERT MACNEIL 1978]

He preaches that the laws of society must conform to Sharia law—the laws of God. He insists they are sufficient to establish norms for every aspect of human life.

AUDIO: [KHOMEINI 1979 SPEECH]

Five years later, Khomeini’s call for a society based on Sharia law becomes a reality and the Khomeini returns to Iran as its supreme ruler. He oversees the complete transformation of the nation into a Sharia state. His student and successor, Ali Khameeni, has ruled Iran since 1989.

We end today with April 6th, 1994. A plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi is shot down by unknown assailants using surface-to-air missiles.

The attack launches a genocide in the Central African nation of Rwanda…where as many as 800,000 Tutsi and Twa minorities are brutally killed.

The conflict began more than a century earlier, when Germany took control of the country and ruled through the Tutsi monarchy. When Belgium took over the country after World War I, it kept the minority Tutsi ruling class in power, and introduced ethnicity based ID cards—treating non-Tutsis …the Hutus … as inferior.

In the late 1950s, ethnic conflict came to a breaking point as the Hutu majority began an armed resistance—eventually overthrowing the Tutsi monarchy in 1961. The new Hutu government forced as many as 300,000 Tutsis out of the country—and into exile.

For nearly 30 years, the Hutus controlled Rwanda. But by the early 90s Tutsi refugees outside the country had formed an army—calling themselves the Rwandan Patriotic Front … or RPF. They decided it was time to take Rwanda back. A civil war raged for nearly three years without a clear victor. Audio here from a 1994 South African Broadcasting Company special report.

AUDIO: We finally met the advancing rebel force at Akanyaru River in southern Rwanda…

Moderate Hutus—including the president of Rwanda—brokered a tentative peace deal with the Tutsis…calling for a government with Tutsi representation. When the president was killed in the missile attack, it was the spark militant Hutus were looking for. They called off the peace talks and blamed the RPF for the attack.

Hutu government and military officials had been arming civilians for months with machetes—saying it was in case they needed to defend themselves from the attacking RPF Tutsi army…now those officials called upon civilians to use the weapons to start killing any Tutsi living in the country. Even those neighbors who had lived peacefully within the villages for decades.

AUDIO: So did many people die in this area? Indeed they did.

For more than three months, the world watched as hundreds of thousands of Tutsi were exterminated. In the chaos, the Rwandan Patriotic Front began fighting the weakened Hutu government forces. This time the RPF emerged victorious in the civil war and took over the government…effectively bringing the genocide of Tutsis to an end…

AUDIO: A flood of refugees…every day, thousands upon thousands people…arrive…trying to escape the war.

The resolution of the Rwandan Genocide 30 years later has been mixed. Many Tutsi converted to Islam as the Catholic church and the Christianized west were seen as complicit in the attacks. On the other hand, there have also been widely publicized accounts of forgiveness that have led many in the country to embrace reconciliation. Audio here from a 2009 interview on CBS:

AUDIO: It is possible to forgive. I have gone through that. It is possible.

That’s this week’s WORLD History Book with reporting assistance from Harrison Watters. I’m Paul Butler.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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