Phillip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families tells the story of the Rwandan Genocide through accounts from various people involved with the Genocide. Gourevitch includes personal opinions of what he learns of the genocide and comments on the current political situation in Rwanda. Scholars disagree as to whether his subjectivity is an inappropriate abuse of power used to support potentially incorrect views or a useful tool in allowing his audience to truly understand and empathize with the genocide. The scholarly conversation over the text includes many different facets of Gourevitch’s artistic and literary choices.
Susan Spearey argues that Gourevitch’s account of the genocide includes a high degree of self-awareness. Gourevitch admits the complexity of his own motivation knowing that his conscious motivations are pure, but that subconscious voyeurism may lurk without his control. Speary states “Gourevitch foregrounds the potential problems of witnessing, acknowledging the propensity for voyeurism and exploitation of the pain of others, while also troubling the notion that witnessing serves a clear purpose or bears a direct relationship to the enactment of justice.” Spearey unveils Gourevitch’s self-reflection and his encouragement of the reader to be self-reflective. Spearey conveys Gourevitch’s goal of encouraging audience reflection by explaining how he invites the audience to explore how they “might contribute in ongoing ways to – or impede – processes of transformation” Furthermore, Spearey connects the problem of witnessing to Gourevitch’s writing. She acknowledges the role that witnesses who retell events play in enacting justice. Spearey implies Gourevitch aids the enactment of justice; however, other scholars believe Gourevitch impedes proper handling of modern Rwandan politics as will be discussed later in this essay.
Furthermore, James Long highlights Gourevitch’s analysis of genocide and society as whole. He emphasizes how Gourevitch calls the audience to “understand one’s position when measuring the ethics of a situation.” This allows the reader to see the stories as events in a greater system that they play a role in. In doing so the text aids readers in understanding “mistakes that we make when trying to evaluate the unthinkable.” Gourevitch not only calls awareness to the Rwandan genocide but to the way others tend to respond to genocide. An important and useful window for self-analysis, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families contributes to the publics cognizance of passivity and voyeurism in cases of extreme violence.
Emil Towner, while analyzing the harm that quantifying genocide can do, emphasizes the importance of Gourevitch’s work in qualifying genocide. Towner praises Gourevitch for converting genocide reports from facts and figures into actual human experience. Gourevitch was able to “recast – and concretize – the genocide in such a way that suffering, and loss are not only evident, but can be experienced and understood.” Towner focuses on how using emotional human experience to convey the events of the genocide allows readers to process it with more empathy and understanding than if they were reading an objective retelling of events.
Kathryn Mara adopts a more critical perspective of Gourevitch’s writing. Mara points to the hypocrisy in his method of conveying such weighty information stating, “instead of the promised neutrality in presenting how Rwandans understood what happened in their country, he imposes his viewpoint frequently.” Mara views Gourevitch’s use of subjective opinion as potentially harmful because, as an outsider, his personal views lack the cultural and ethnic understanding that the African perspective holds. He goes as far to contradict the opinions of Africans commenting on the genocide. Mara gives the example “Gourevitch critiques Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa for his assertion that he shares in the failures of Africa, because he is African.” Mara does not believe, Gourevitch’s power as a journalist should be used to contradict the sentiments of those whose voices are often less heard in the western world.
On the other hand, Joshua Roiland believes this subjectivity to be useful in creating a transparent account of what occurred. Roiland states that Gourevitch’s subjective lens invites the reader to experience “personal anguish, political outrage, and public guilt”. Similar to Towners point of view, he argues that this is more effective than objective journalism because it opens the text up to interpretation and inspires a “more robust debate of the facts and stories of the genocide”. He contrasts Gourevitch’s emotional storytelling with the objective reporting of the New York times to demonstrate the current debate within journalism over objectivity and subjectivity. Kathryn Mara and other scholars believe objective journalism remains ethically sound because it allows consumers to form their own opinions; however, Roiland believes that journalists including emotional and artistic accounts of events encourages interpretation by the audience to an even greater extent that fact statement. He argues that the inclusion of emotion reminds the audience that what they are reading is not just a story but a lived human experience that deserves thoughtful processing and consideration.
Tristan McConnell adds another complex dimension to the debate over Gourevitch in analyzing his defense of Kagame. After the genocide, Kagame came under fire for encouraging violent retaliation in the Congo. The international community reacted disapproving of using violence as a means to solve violence; however, Gourevitch painted Kagame in a mostly positive light in We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families and continued to defend him as opposition to his violence arose. McConnel argues that Gourevitch’s subjective account of Kagame’s character could potentially lead an impressionable audience to support a violent man. McConnell raises concern for Gourevitch’s lack of “criticism of Kagame and his rule, despite the accumulating evidence against him”. Ultimately, McConnell found most ethical trouble not in Gourevitch’s coverage of the genocide but in Gourevitch’s coverage of post-genocide Rwanda. McConnell states “the verdict must still be out” on Gourevitch’s writing.
Upon initial analysis it is clear that many scholars support Gourevitch’s personal, emotional style of writing because it provides readers with a lens through which they can empathize with and understand the genocide. However, many scholars argue Gourevitch imposes potentially uninformed personal opinions that lead a trusting public into misinformation. This scholarly discussion of Gourevitch work explores the benefits and limitations of subjective journalism.
Long Iv, James D., Elie Wiesel, and Thomas L. Friedman. “Deaths in Paradise: Genocide and the Limits of Imagination in Rwanda.” In An Ethical Compass, 14–21. Coming of Age in the 21st Century. Yale University Press, 2010. https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npcw7.7.
Mara, Kathryn. “Someone to Tell the Story: Literature, Genocide, and the Commodification of Trauma in Post-Conflict Rwanda.” M.A., Michigan State University, 2015. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1686537413/abstract/A79BB8681B664B46PQ/10.
Mcconnell, Tristan. “One Man’s Rwanda.” Columbia Journalism Review 49, no. 5 (February 1, 2011): 39–43.
Roiland, Joshua M. “Engaging the Public: Toward a Political Theory of Literary Journalism.” Ph.D., Saint Louis University, 2011. https://search.proquest.com/docview/921650310/abstract/5ED2CF1A0D734275PQ/2.
Spearey, Susan. “Affect and the
Ethics of Reading ‘Post-Conflict’ Memoirs – Revisiting Antjie Krog’s Country of
My Skull and Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be
Killed with Our Families*.” Cross / Cultures; Leiden, no. 145 (2012):
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 Spearey, Susan., 528
 Spearey, Susan., 528
 Long Iv, James D., Elie Wiesel, and Thomas L. Friedman. “Deaths in Paradise: Genocide and the Limits of Imagination in Rwanda.” In An Ethical Compass, 14–21. Coming of Age in the 21st Century. Yale University Press, 2010. https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npcw7.7.
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 Towner, Emil B. “Quantifying Genocide: What Are We Really Counting (On)?” JAC 31, no. 3/4 (2011): 625–38
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 Mara, Kathryn. “Someone to Tell the Story: Literature, Genocide, and the Commodification of Trauma in Post-Conflict Rwanda.” M.A., Michigan State University, 2015. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1686537413/abstract/A79BB8681B664B46PQ/10.
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 Mara, Kathryn., 41
 Roiland, Joshua M. “Engaging the Public: Toward a Political Theory of Literary Journalism.” Ph.D., Saint Louis University, 2011. https://search.proquest.com/docview/921650310/abstract/5ED2CF1A0D734275PQ/2.
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 Roiland, Joshua M., 192
 Mcconnell, Tristan. “One Man’s Rwanda.” Columbia Journalism Review 49, no. 5 (February 1, 2011): 39–43.
 Mcconnell, Tristan., 41
 Mcconnell, Tristan., 41