The Devil Came on Horseback
Brian Steidle
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Buy *The Devil Came on Horseback: Bearing Witness to the Genocide in Darfur* by Brian Steidle with Gretchen Steidle Wallace online

The Devil Came on Horseback: Bearing Witness to the Genocide in Darfur
Brian Steidle with Gretchen Steidle Wallace
230 pages
March 2007
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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The Devil Came on Horseback: Bearing Witness to the Genocide in Darfur is a memoir of former United States Marine Captain Brian Steidle’s experiences as an unarmed African Union military observer in Darfur in the country of Sudan. It’s an engaging and stirring account of the violence, bloodshed, and genocide he witnessed there. Captain Steidle was fired upon, taken hostage, and saw villages burned down with people locked inside their huts to burn to death. The GOS (or Government of Sudan) military and nomadic Arabians called Janjaweed, or “the devil on a horse,” themselves Muslim, intentionally went on a campaign that is ongoing today to eradicate the black population of Darfur (also Muslim) based on the color of their skin. In an email to his sister and co-author Gretchen, Brian wrote:

I saw girls that had their hands bound by make-shift cuffs, huddled together and burned alive. Men strewn all over the village, burned alive--this because they were trying to protect their family. The entire village was in ashes. If these photos were released to the public there would be troops in here in no time. What is going on here is most definitely a “crime against humanity” and most definitely “genocide.” There is no question about that. These people have been burned alive because they are “too dark.” This is what they’re told when they’re raped in front of their families. They are told that when the child is born to leave them behind because they will not be “too dark” and leave this country now or they will die.
Who could witness such terrible soul-shaking things and not be changed? Who could live side-by-side with the people of Darfur and report on their plight and not feel a desperate desire to help them in any way he or she can? That is why, after the time Captain Steidle spent in Dafur, he decided to write this book of his experiences there, which has also been made into a major documentary feature from Break Thru Films (

While in Darfur, Steidle often felt frustrated that he couldn’t do more for the people than to report ceasefire violations between the GOS and the SLA (Sudanese Liberation Army) forces and take photos of the destruction and carnage (some of which are included in the book). As a former Marine, he was accustomed to actively taking part in resolutions and recognizing that sometimes the only option is to use a show of arms. It wasn’t easy for him, as he relates, to see the plight of the people of Darfur and to be able to do little about it:

I was frustrated by having no mandate to protect the Darfurians, whom I saw attacked every day. But I still felt that our presence in Darfur gave the people some sense of security and hope, even if it was a fragile promise.
Steidle’s memoir is powerful and will hopefully awaken more people to the ongoing genocide happening in Darfur and all of Sudan. When horrendous atrocities happen to people thousands of miles away on a different continent and not in one’s own backyard, it is too easy to ignore or turn a blind eye to the problems and wars of other countries and act as if it is of little consequence in the overall scheme of things. But that is just the sort of attitude that causes the leaders of some countries, like the GOS, to become further emboldened in carrying out their plans. The GOS plans include making Darfur and Sudan another of a series of “Arab States.” As Captain Steidle read in a document, one of the goals of the GOS was “To implement the aims of the Arab Coalition in Darfur and make it void of any African tribes and face the rebels and destroy them with poisonous weapons.”

Apart from The Devil Came on Horseback: Bearing Witness to the Genocide in Darfur being an excellent memoir and account of the genocide in Darfur, I applaud wholeheartedly Captain Steidle and his sister standing up for what is right, trying to do what they can to help the Darfurians and to bring the genocide occurring there to wider public notice. The book is as gripping and page-turning as any novel. It’s difficult to think that slavery can still happen in this day and age, but it does in Darfur, where children who are captured are often used as slaves by the Arabians in charge of the government. Also, the thought that history can and does repeat itself in its worst aspects is a frightening one - it’s the African equivalent of the Holocaust. Thanks to the Steidles and others, the Darfurians have been given a voice. Let’s hope that their efforts will eventually pay off in an end to the bloodshed.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Douglas R. Cobb, 2007

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