Among the dead of Continental Flight 3407 was a 66-year-old historian and activist named Alison Des Forges. In a short essay about the Rwandan genocide for The Revealer in 2004, I referred to Des Forges’ 1999 book on the subject, Leave None to Tell the Story, as “a painful masterwork.” That did not do the book justice. It is a modern scripture, a designation it deserves not just for its exposure of the fact that the genocide had roots in bad biblical scholarship, a misreading of Genesis applied to ethnicity in Rwanda. I first encountered Des Forges and her work while researching a story about debates between scholars of the genocide for The Chronicle of Higher Education. I wrote then that:
Ms. Des Forges, also an activist for Human Rights Watch, is the main author (with eight other researchers) of the most comprehensive study of the killing: Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda (Human Rights Watch, 1999). At nearly 800 pages, it is less a narrative or an analysis than a horrifying collage; with the instincts of a novelist and the precision of an architect, Ms. Des Forges collected and compiled eyewitness testimonies, diplomatic dispatches, minutes of local meetings, datebooks of murderers, radio show transcripts, inventories of weapons. On one page she reproduces a receipt for 25,662 kilograms of machetes to be delivered to one of the genocide’s conspirators nearly half a year before the killing began.