Skip to main content

Come out, come out, we want to kill you

Into the Quick of Life: The Rwandan Genocide: the survivors speak A Time for Machetes: The Rwandan Genocide: the killers speak By Jean Hatzfeld Serpent's Tail pound;12 each

Children of the Raj By Vyvyen Brendon Weidenfeld and Nicolson pound;20

George IV: a life in caricature By Kenneth Baker Thames Hudson Pounds 24.95

Innocent Rwililiza and Joseph-Desire Bitero were at school together and went on to become teachers and colleagues. They don't talk much now, not since Joseph-Desire organised the local groups of Hutu killers who tried to massacre every one of Innocent's fellow Tutsis in Rwanda during the genocide of 1994. To them the Tutsis were not people but cockroaches (or, when they tried to crawl to safety, snakes) and they killed them with no more compassion or hesitation than they would have shown towards those creatures. This was massacre by machete, as agricultural as the Jewish Holocaust was industrial, but just as effective. It is resolutely maintained by both sides that, had the interehamwe militias which carried out the killings not taken a few breaks to loot, rape or just grab a beer, they would have exterminated the entire Tutsi population.

Jean Hatzfeld, a French journalist who covered the massacres for the French newspaper Liberation, interviewed survivors for Into the Quick of Life in 2000, hearing appalling stories of adults and children cut down (the interehamwe spoke of "cutting" or "pruning", even "work"; never "killing") or feigning death - adopting the unblinking stare of the dead - before hiding out in the papyrus marshes. Many children were killed when the interehamwe persuaded them to come out, calling out "I can see you!", just like in a game of hide and seek.

As the 10th anniversary of the killings approached, Hatzfeld went back to Rwanda and managed to interview a group of the killers in prison, all from the same area as Innocent Rwililiza, some of them his former pupils. The day before the killing started, they had been at choir practice, singing hymns alongside the people they would start killing the next day; some were still singing as they set about their grisly task. They gathered on the football pitch to be told which area they were to cover, as if they were distributing leaflets for an election campaign. The only ones who seem to have felt shame were those who forgot to bring a machete: they were let off just the once, but next time it was a hefty fine. The worst crime was to show compassion: "For us, kind words for Tutsis were more fatal than evil deeds."

The complex problems of Rwanda spring out of its history under German and Belgian colonial rule. Vyvyen Brendon has assembled material for another story of empire: the often heartbreaking tales of British children growing up in British India. Theirs was a strange world of servants and ayahs (nursemaids) punctuated by long periods of separation from their parents.

Brendon is at pains to point out that in many ways these children were no worse off than their fellows back in Britain, where children were also packed off to boarding school and child mortality may have been even higher; however, there was a particular poignancy attached to separation over such a long distance, especially when it meant a schooling in a cold and often unfriendly England.

There are many tales here of children dumped on "aunts" who did not appreciate their charges' habit of clapping their hands for a servant.

True, English gardens did not have cobras' nests for unwary children to plunge their hands into, but the children seem to have missed India desperately and to have been heartbroken at having to leave their real homes. The journalist Ann Leslie, one of many celebrity children of the Raj - others include Felicity Kendall, Sir John Harvey-Jones and Cliff Richard - chose Ravi Shankar's music on Desert Island Discs because "it evokes the time when I was the happiest I have ever been". It was less happy, though, for the mixed-race Eurasians, mocked for their lilting chi-chi accents and accepted by neither community, nor for the poorer European children who went to school in India, where they had to wear a plainer uniform, and eat plainer food, than their wealthier classmates. A fascinating and refreshingly child-centred account.

Unlike the Raj children, George IV wasn't separated from his parents anything like long enough, at least in his opinion. The Conservative former education secretary Kenneth Baker, no stranger himself to being caricatured, has produced a lavishly illustrated survey of the life of our least loved king, told through the merciless attacks of Gillray, Rowlandson and others of this golden age of English caricature. Many of the pictures are from Baker's private collection, and he has a good eye for the saucy: the images of Prince Leopold's phallic German sausage (Princess Charlotte:

"It is the longest and thickest I ever saw, do let me taste it"), not to mention George himself rogering Mrs Fitzherbert, can only boost the street cred of the history department.

Sean Lang is honorary secretary of the Historical Association and director of the Historical Association Curriculum Project

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you