J. Brad Hicks (bradhicks) wrote,
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Quote of the Day: Humanitarian Aid as "War Catering"

"In case after case, a persuasive case can be made that, overall, humanitarian aid did as much or even more harm than good. The godfather of modern humanitarianism was a Swiss businessman named Henri Dunant, who founded the International Committee of the Red Cross. Humanitarianism also had a godmother named Florence Nightingale, who rejected the idea of the Red Cross from the outset. By easing the burden on war ministries, Nightingale argued, volunteer efforts could simply make waging war more attractive, and more probable. Polman has come back from fifteen years of reporting in the places where aid workers ply their trade to tell us that Nightingale was right. The scenes of suffering that we tend to call humanitarian crises are almost always symptoms of political circumstances and there’s no apolitical way of responding to them – no way to act without having a political effect. At the very least, the role of the officially neutral, apolitical aid worker in most contemporary conflicts is, as Nightingale forewarned, that of a caterer: humanitarianism relieves the warring parties of many of the burdens (administrative and financial) of waging war, diminishing the demands of governing while fighting, cutting the cost of taking casualties, and supplying food, medicine, and logistical support that keep armies going."

- Philip Gourevitch, "A Critic at Large: Alms Dealers: Can You Provide Humanitarian Aid Without Facilitating Conflicts?" New Yorker, 10/11/10, p102 et seq, reviewing Linda Polman, The Crisis Caravan: What's Wrong with Humanitarian Aid?
Tags: history, politics
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