In 2004, ex-Marine Brian Steidle signed up for a stint as an African Union observer in the Darfur region of Sudan, where he ended up a first hand witness to the genocide there. When he left, he took with him a large number of photographs of victims of atrocities and a sense of enormous frustration at his inability to do anything more than document the devastation. A Nicholas Kristoff column about his work and his pictures catapulted him into national prominence, getting him into meetings with Condi Rice, Congressional hearings, and onto a host of television programs. Later, he returned to Chad to work on further documenting the plight of villagers displaced by the brutal campaign against them in Darfur. Back in the United States again, he toured the country trying to raise awareness of the issue.
The Devil Came on Horseback follows Steidle through all this, and it does a superb, if extremely upsetting, job of documenting the genocide. But in spite of Steidle’s relentless emphasis on what to do about Darfur, the documentary seems to me much weaker on larger questions about how outsiders can play a constructive role in Sudan. Steidle appears to have little doubt that a military intervention there to prevent further attacks is a moral imperative, at one point remarking that if his camera lens had been a scope he might have destroyed a jeep of fleeing soldiers and allowed terrorized villagers to return to their village. This is, I think, a very human and understandable response to the sort of brutality Steidle witnessed. But I am not convinced it is the wisest. I have no idea what to do about Darfur, just hard questions for anyone pushing military intervention as a solution there.