BLAME SOLOMON, BLAME SHEBA

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When you hear on the evening news or see next morning on the front page of the Times that tens of thousands are now dead in a postage-stamp-sized country in central Africa, most of them chopped up by machetes in murderous tribal wars that have been going on intermittently for centuries, there is no way you can grasp the enormity of the horror and reduce it to understandable terms.

Blame the Belgians for not having prepared this place for independence years before. Blame the Russians and the CIA during the Cold War for having armed and supplied this warlord or that. Blame God for having created two tribes, the Hutus and the Tutsis, in too small a neighborhood. Blame Stanley, blame Livingstone, blame Solomon and Sheba.

However you assess blame or ascribe motivation, this is the reality of central Africa six years before the third millenium, as reported by a courageous correspondent called Donatella Lorch, filing from Kigali, Rwanda:

"Food had run out, drinking water was scarce and the streets of this capital city, empty of residents, was a terrifying obstacle course today of drunken soldiers and marauding gangs of looters dressed in a patchwork of uniforms, armed with machetes, bows and arrows and automatic weapons.

"Children carried hand grenades, and open-back trucks, loaded with angry men waving weapons at passing cars, sped through the city. As night fell, screams could be heard coming from a church compound where more than 2,000 Rwandans had taken refuge. A short time later, after the soundof machine-gun fire, the screamingstopped ..."

You don't write better war correspondence than that. Not under that kind of pressure and under fire. And I hope next year when they get around to voting, the Pulitzer jury remembers Ms. Lorch.

If she's still alive.

A week or so before she filed this report for The New York Times, Ms. Lorch was writing about how soldiers attacked the woman prime minister of the country and chopped her to death along with 10 Belgian soldiers who tried to protect her. And a day afterwards, she would write of the International Red Cross truck carrying six wounded Rwandans that was stopped by gunmen who then dragged out the wounded and butchered them in the road.

Africans are killing Africans and the U.N. says it is powerless to halt the fighting and Senator Dole tells CBS, "The Americans are out. As far as I'm concerned in Rwanda, that ought to be the end of it."

I guess a lot of us feel that way. Especially after Somalia. But it got me thinking about 1960. And the Belgian Congo. And Harry Taylor.

Harry was a beefy, barrel-chested, sleek-haired young man I knew in Georgetown who wrote a column for the Scripps-Howard newspapers and their syndicate. Maybe 26 years old. Big, deep singing voice and he had some of the best roles in the annual Hexagon Club musicals we put on every spring (I got chorus boy roles and stagehand work), and he played tennis big, too, knocking hell out of the ball.

And if he ever got his first serve in, which he did occasionally, watch out.

Harry's old man was Henry J. Taylor, an early radio version of Rush Limbaugh, not quite as flamboyant, but conservative (he later was made our ambassador to Switzerland) and Harry had a few connections and used them.

But he was also a writer and ambitious and, being single, was always pushing Scripps-Howard to let him cover this war or that disaster. I suppose today he'd be working for CNN. He was still a kid in ways, boyish, telling about the time in Beirut he bought an automatic weapon on the black market just to be able to write about how easy it was and then fired it off his hotel balcony into the night sky just to demonstrate how one burst could start the lads all over Beirut to joining in. And then writing about that, and the ensuing firefight he'd ignited.

A kid, still, as I say, though he could take the world, and himself, pretty seriously.

By the late '50s I was living in London and then, in the summer of 1960, when the Belgians pulled out and the Congo blazed up, I was on my way to Paris. And Harry had somehow gotten himself to the old Congo. The first president, Patrice Lumumba, didn't last long after independence and the Belgian pullout and he got the chop. Then Katanga, the big province with minerals, seceded. Mr. Tshombe declared himself president. Or something. And the usual sacking and burning, the traditional raping and looting, usually by local chaps in camouflage gear and berets, claiming to be soldiers, began all over the country. Statesmen everywhere cried alas and at the U.N. there was wringing of hands, and day after day Harry Taylor and other reporters sent back their 800 words of death and pillage.

By Sept. 1 we were in Paris, my wife and I, staying in a little hotel off the Etoile and looking for a flat, my wife being five months pregnant. Newspapers always move you to a new country when your wife is five months pregnant; they have a rule about it. And then one day at the hotel I saw a dispatch about Harry in the Paris Herald Trib. My wife knew Harry from Georgetown and liked him and being that she was pregnant, I didn't know how to tell her about Harry. How he'd been riding in a Jeep and he'd been shot.

No one knew which side shot Harry Taylor. Not that it mattered much, not in the end. Just like now in Rwanda 34 years later, with the Hutus and the Tutsis. It's the killing that matters, you see. Just the killing. And you don't have to put names on the bodies if there are enough of them.

At least Harry had a name and a few like me to remember. Those poor bastards there today are just numbers.

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